by Bob Barnetson
First published January 23 at Labour & Employment in Alberta
There were a bunch of trade unionists leafleting drivers entering the Co-op Gas Bar on St Albert Trail in Edmonton this morning. We were asking drivers to get their gas somewhere else to apply consumer pressure to the Co-op Refinery in Regina. The refinery locked their workers out in early December to try to drive rollbacks into the worker’s pension plans (the refinery is hugely profitably).
It was a pretty routine picket line. Picketers with signs were on the sidewalk alongside St Albert Trail for visibility and to alert motorists intending to gas up that there was a picket line at the station. To get into the gas bar, drivers had to turn off St Albert Trail onto a side street, drive about 75 feet, and then turn into the gas station. The picket line with leaflets was at the entrance to the gas bar. Leafleters had orange jackets and reflective vests.
The first 90 minutes were quiet—only 13 drivers decided to proceed past the picketers and got gas. Many more decided to go up the street to Shell. Some drivers took leaflets and chatted, others didn’t and were waved through with no wait. (The store is not Co-op owned we just waved those customers through as well.) Overall, a very civilized experience.
About 9:30, a heavy haul tow truck from City Wide Towing turned off the St Albert Trail. The driver was shaking his head at the first line of pickets. He then drive towards the gas bar turn in where he started his turn early and drove right through the picket line without slowing. Fortunately, the picketers saw him coming.
I stepped back about three feet. Because of the length of the tow truck, the rear wheels tracked inside his turn and missed me by only few inches. If I hadn’t have stepped back, he would have clipped and I would have gone under the rear tires. He then got out and beaked off at us and went into the store.
After we wrapped up our picket, I called City Wide Towing and reported the incident. I was told a manager and the safety officer would call me back. I said I’d wait until the end of the day to hear from them. So far, no call.
Thinking back, the City Wide Driver pretty clearly targeted the picketers with his truck. There was lots of warning of the picket line, lots of room to slow down and stop, and he could even have driven past the first entrance and come in the back way (another 100 feet down the side street). Starting his turn early and not braking were intentional decisions to buzz the line. There was zero remorse when he got out of the truck.
More surprising is City Wide’s complete lack of response. The employee could have injured or killed me or another picketer. That would have resulted in a police investigation, a lawsuit, and tons of bad publicity for City Wide. Clearly, this employee deserves to get canned.