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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

More corporate fun and games with the CEWS

With the CEWS having gone to companies that locked out workers and that had workers on strike, as well as to companies that laid off workers anyway, it is the gift that just keeps giving to the capitalist class.

Locked out workers picketing at Cessco Fabrication and Engineering Ltd. in Edmonton. It turns out the company received the CEWS despite the lockout. Photo via the Boilermakers.

On The Left Chapter I have already looked at how the much ballyhooed Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) has been a shameful fiasco. First it came to light that a number of companies had increased their dividends to shareholders while receiving the government subsidy. In some cases this also resulted in wealthy CEOs becoming even more wealthy at least partly on the public dime.

Then we looked at how various extremist, anti-choice organizations had received the CEWS to help keep their operations funded.

But the CEWS is a gift that just keeps giving to the capitalist class.

On January 13 it was reported that Cessco Fabrication and Engineering Ltd. in Edmonton received CEWS money despite having locked out their unionized workers:

Hugh MacDonald, business manager of the Boilermakers Lodge 146, said he learned about Cessco receiving relief funding while reading the newspaper on Dec. 20. He said the funding was not intended to be used by a company during a labour dispute.
“I think taxpayers in Canada deserve better,” MacDonald said. “I think they will be astonished to learn that a small portion of this money in this good program is being used in this way. We were quite willing to roll over the contract but Mr. Hummel has indicated that he is not interested in that. Mr. Hummel … is certainly willing to accept federal COVID relief money through the wage subsidy program to subsidize this union-busting campaign.”
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said the lockout is the only one happening in the province at the moment and echoed MacDonald’s sentiments that using relief funding to hire non-union workers was inappropriate.
“They’re using this money to hire replacement workers at the expense of the company’s long-time employees who have been locked out now for months,” he said. “It’s important to keep in mind the workers who’ve been locked out are long-time employees. Some of them have been with the company for more than 40 years.”

They are not the only company trying to use the CEWS to help with union busting.

In Winnipeg restaurant chain Stella's Café did so as well. Some of Stella's Cafe's workers were on strike during September to November 2020 and management threatened to close and sell their flagship location in response. According to Press Progress:

Opening the Sherbrook location under the union’s demands isn’t possible,” Stella’s told Global News. “There is neither the time nor the financial resources to concentrate efforts on anything besides surviving the pandemic.”
But there were a few things Stella’s management didn’t mention, including that they had actually been receiving federal wage subsidies and continued to keep their kitchen open for pickup and delivery.
According to Canada Revenue Agency records, that location and five other Stella’s entities, received the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS).
The CEWS program was launched to “help employers keep and re-hire workers amidst the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic,” and currently subsidizes up to 75% of an organization’s payroll based on its revenue loss.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), says Air Canada is "pocketing federal wage supports to pad their bottom line, and leaving thousands of its employees behind."

Air Canada announced an additional 1,400 layoffs on January 13, including 700 active flight attendants at Air Canada Mainline and a further 100 at Air Canada Rouge who are members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), on top of thousands of others who have been laid off since the pandemic rocked the industry in March 2020.
Despite months of contending with the airline that all members laid off should receive the weekly Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) – which is the stated purpose of the CEWS – Air Canada contends that only those still on active duty, who represent a fraction of the company’s actual workforce, will be used to access this subsidy.
“The CEWS was created so workers have a job to return to as the economy rebounds. Why is Air Canada refusing free money to help the workers who built this company keep their jobs?” asked Wesley Lesosky, President of the Air Canada Component of CUPE. “And why is the government allowing Air Canada to take the wage subsidy and run, padding their bottom line and leaving behind thousands of their employees?”

Lesosky goes on to ask:

“The entire purpose of the CEWS was to help companies avoid sweeping mass layoffs,” continued Lesosky. “But Air Canada wants to have their cake and eat it too, by taking the subsidy and still laying us off. It’s an absolute travesty that the federal government is letting them get away with it. Why has the federal government allowed large corporations access to this program, without any conditions to ensure workers that are subject to layoff will be protected?”

This is a totally fair question along with why were companies receiving the CEWS allowed to increase dividends, why were they allowed to receive the subsidy despite having workers on strike or having locked out workers, and why was the subsidy available for extremist groups?

The CEWS boondoggle gets worse with each new revelation and yet, to date, demands that anything be done about it are muted at best. This may be due to the fact that the NDP and many labour unions supported the program (with the NDP even taking credit for it), but it has got to change.


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