Thirty Edmonton families have been going without paychecks and benefits since June 28. That’s when CESSCO Fabrication & Engineering Ltd. locked workers out of their jobs. Workers had been bargaining with the company for over 2.5 years, and CESSCO wanted them to accept a contract that would gut wages, pension contributions and protective seniority language. Rather than continue negotiating, CESSCO locked the workers out.
During a pandemic. During a time of unprecedented economic and personal uncertainty.
The workers, members of Boilermakers Local 146, just want to go back to work. They want to continue negotiating while they keep doing the quality work they’ve done for years for CESSCO.
"I want to make it very clear to you that the full power of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers is firmly behind our Brothers at Local 146."
International President Newton B. Jones has written a letter to CESSCO parent company Canerector CEO Amanda Hawkins calling for an immediate end to the lockout
“My future is up in the air. I don’t know if they’re going to close the doors”
Dwight Watson turns 65 in March. He was looking forward to finishing out a satisfying career where he worked hard and had well earned an upcoming retirement. Thirty-seven years on the job, the last 12 serving as a job steward.
And he was lucky: He liked his job. He liked where he worked.
But CESSCO doesn’t care about Dwight Watson. Or his plans. Or the nearly four-decades and thousands of dedicated hours—he put in to make the company successful. They locked him out anyway.
“It was more of a shock than anything else. It’s like you’ve been shot in the gut, and you don’t know how you’re going to come out of it,” he says.
Watson went to work on June 28 expecting to go back to the bargaining table, where Boilermakers and CESSCO had been negotiating for over two and a half years toward a new contract. He thought things were looking good for a resolution, but within 10 minutes, CESSCO president Dave Hummel dug his heels in and announced a lockout.
“There was no way we could take that contract—it was a ridiculous contract, and Dave Hummel knows it,” says Watson, noting that the contract would have reduced his wages by at least $5 an hour. “Things have really changed since Dave Hummel became president. His aim is to break the union.”
That was over 20 weeks ago, and there are no signs that CESSCO will let up. It seems Hummel’s conscience won’t even stir him to concede to bringing the workers back under their old contract as they continue negotiations. During a pandemic. During some of the most uncertain economic times many families have ever faced.
And Watson is just one of the 30 Edmonton families impacted. He and his wife of 41 years raised their four children in Edmonton, and they were looking forward to relaxing and enjoying their 16 grandchildren together. They’ve both worked for that. They’ve earned it.
But now? His wife has had to go from part-time at her government job back to full-time work; and as Alberta’s coldest weather sets in, Watson is on the picket line every day.
“My future is up in the air. I don’t know if they’re going to close the doors. For now, I’m walking the picket line for the young people who might come into CESSCO in the future looking for a union company.”
“I don’t think we’re welcome here, and I think that was their intention all along.”
Jeff Burns feels fortunate. He and his wife, Tina, just celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary. And even though he has been locked out of his job at CESSCO, where he’s worked for over 21 years—even though he walks the picket line every day in the Alberta cold—he feels fortunate. He feels lucky that it’s just him and his wife at home. That they have been smart over the years with their finances. That the regular check Tina Burns receives for a permanent disability is money they can count on to pay the bills.
What Jeff Burns doesn’t feel is optimism.
“I’d like to have optimism—I really would. But I think that ship’s sailed,” he says. “I don’t think we’re welcome here, and I think that was their intention all along. It’s hard to be optimistic when we haven’t sat down with CESSCO since August.”
Like his Boilermaker brothers, the lock-out notice came as a surprise. Especially in a bargaining process that had lasted over two and a half years.
“In the past, we had continuity in our collective bargaining. No matter what the economy looked like and even if it meant no increases in pay or benefits, previous management always kept things moving forward,” he says, referring to before Dave Hummel became CESSCO CEO and Amanda Hawkins took over for her father as CEO of CESSCO parent company Canerector Inc.
“It would be nice to be treated with the same level of respect as we were prior to their arrival—in 20 years we worked with [Amanda Hawkins’] father.”
Burns recalls Hawkins’ grandfather, who was CEO before her father, at company Christmas parties.
“He made sure to come around and shake our hands and have at least a short conversation with us,” he says. “It made us feel like we mattered. We got hand-written cards from [Amanda Hawkins’] grandmother. What happened? It’s the same family, and we’re the same people.”
Burns isn’t sure what he’ll do long term. As the summer turned into fall, and fall turned into winter on the picket line (at -12 degrees Celsius in November), it’s a grim outlook. He and others believe CESSCO and Canerector have used the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to stall negotiating.
“If they were having financial issues with the facility, that’s not our fault,” he says. “And it sure feels like we’re being blamed for it.”
He’s considered leaving Alberta entirely since the province has made many recent anti-labor moves. He can hold out a little while longer, but others he knows are really struggling. Some have found work through L-146, but it means traveling away from their families.
“They’ve grown accustomed to working in the shop and coming home to spend time with their families,” he explains. “Now if they need to get work, they have to go away—and some of them have young children. They have to choose between work and their families.”
That’s not something he can imagine for himself. His focus is on keeping the picket line going and being near Tina. His relationship with his wife is what is helping him bear the injustice, the cold and the uncertainty.
“Like me, she can’t understand how this CESSCO situation ever got to this point,” he says. “I’m thankful for our relationship. After being on the picket line all day, I can go home, and she ‘gets it.’ She doesn’t press me for dialog, because she knows it’s been consuming me all day. And she’s there when I need a shoulder. It’s what keeps me from unraveling completely.”
Just like that, they can decide you’re not important.
This affects all workers.
We all need to stand together..
Enough is enough. Fair pay and benefits for an honest day’s work.
Visit our Action Toolkit and take a second to send an email or make a phone call to CESSCO and Canerector leadership to call for an end to the lockout.
Send a donation through a fund set up by the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers. Checks should be made out to “W.T. Creeden, IST” with “146 CESSCO Lockout Assistance” on the memo line. Mail checks to:
International Brotherhood of Boilermakers
Attn: IST W.T. Creeden
753 State Ave., Suite 565
Kansas City, KS 66101
Use #StandWith146 to aggregate posts showing support for L-146 and denouncing CESSCO. Follow @boilermakers.union and @ibb146 on Facebook and @boilermakernews and @146lodge on Twitter, and share news about the L-146 CESSCO lockout as it happens.
Visit the picket line in front of CESSCO at 7310 99th Street NW, Edmonton, Alberta. We’re on the picket line every day from 5:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Show CESSCO and Canerector Inc management that the entire community stands with 146 until the workers are rejoined at the bargaining table.
If you can't join in person, show your support by being part of the virtual picket line.
Add your name and show CESSCO and the workers locked out that you #StandWith146!
(Your email address will not be shared.)
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Edmonton Journal, January 13, 2021
No end in sight for Boilermakers locked out at CESSCO
Press Release, December 8, 2020
IndustriALL Global Union calls on Cessco to stop lockout of Boilermakers and resume negotiations
Press Release, November 6, 2020
Unionized CESSCO employees locked out for months over wage and pension disagreement
Global News TV, October 24, 2020
Letter from IVP Stadnick to Canerector CEO Amanda Hawkins
September 15, 2020
‘It does not make sense’: Edmonton Boilermaker union steaming over Bill 32
Edmonton Journal, September 9, 2020
Local 146 Boilermakers locked out at CESSCO
Boilermaker Reporter, August 7, 2020
Attacking the Trades in Alberta
Organizing Work, July 16, 2020
CESSCO locks out employees after negotiations stall
Edmonton Journal, July 3, 2020
Boilermakers International Rep
Organizer, Local 146