EI Benefits Won for Former Tembec Workers

November 10, 2010

When Tembec workers were locked out by their employer in September 2009, they applied for Employment Insurance and were advised they would not be eligible for benefits during a labour dispute. The two unions representing the workers, USWA and COPE contacted the Community Unemployed Help Centre (CUHC) for assistance.

CUHC agreed to represent the workers to help them obtain their benefits. CUHC cited a Manitoba Labour decision and argued that the employer had no intention of settling with the workers, but had clearly intended to sell the plant. CUHC argued that when the employer had attempted to extract concessions from the unions in excess of 30 per cent, it was attempting to make the plant more attractive for a potential buyer. When the unions refused the employer’s offer, they were locked out.

The federal government has always maintained that denying EI benefits to workers during a labour dispute allows them to remain neutral on such matters and not influence the outcome of the dispute. CUHC argued the employer had no intention of resolving the labour dispute and the workers should be entitled to EI benefits.

Community Unemployed Help Centre represented the workers before two separate EI Boards of Referees. One board allowed the appeals and the other did not. The federal government had appealed the decisions won by CUHC, but has now conceded. This is an important victory for the Tembec workers and again evidences the value of CUHC to the labour movement and local unions.