Canadian Mayor locks out municipal workers, refuses to bargain for 150+ days, imposes nationwide trespass notice for CUPE members and staff

Not only does Mayor Doug Bender persist in refusing to engage in collective bargaining with the union, but he has also instituted a ban from accessing three municipal premises in Black River-Matheson on the 14 striking workers, expanding it to all CUPE members and employees nationwide, a disproportionate and unfair anti-union measure. PSI General Secretary Daniel Bertossa has written to the mayor and raised it with the Ministry of Labour of Ontario and Canada.

A disproportionate and unnecessary escalation of a local labour dispute

Municipal workers and members of PSI affiliate and largest Canadian trade union CUPE (the Canadian Union of Public Employees) are at the heart of a bitter dispute where basic social dialogue principles have broken down and municipal workers collective bargaining rights are being violated. It all started in October 2023 as Mayor Bender of Black River-Matheson sought to unilaterally impose a concessionary wage grid that would result in an over $2/hour on average cut for new municipal workers and union members, establishing different pay for equal work resulting in de facto inter-generational discrimination.

As CUPE Local 1490 members rejected this unilateral offer, the Mayor locked them out without warning in the middle of the harsh Canadian winter. That lockout resulted in a strike. Rather than seek a negotiated solution and agree on a fair collective agreement for both parties through good faith dialogue, Mayor Bender replaced striking workers with contract workers to break their industrial action.

Additionally, on 15 February the Township issued a trespass order banning 14 striking CUPE municipal workers, every single member of CUPE and all CUPE employees - Canada’s largest union - from three Black River-Matheson buildings, including the town hall, local hockey arena and a public worksite, a disproportionate and unfair response to a local labour dispute that should be settled by good faith collective bargaining.

On February 22 the Township was forced to modify the trespass order as CUPE responsibly pointed out it would compromise public safety by banning unionized emergency staff like paramedics from the public spaces. The trespass order now bans all CUPE members, “excepting members of any CUPE Local that is in the process of providing emergency services.” This demonstrates the absurdity of the move and the fact that it has a potential to jeopardize essential public services the Black River-Matheson community needs and relies on.


CUPE 1490 - Serge Bouchard

Mayor Bender’s actions violate state, national and international labour legislation

In a shocking candid video recorded in November by one of the striking worker on the picket line, Mayor Bender can be heard saying to municipal workers on the picket line that they were “getting closer and closer to you being pretty hungry” and that they should “start looking” for other jobs.

Also, in a letter sent directly to members in January 2024, the Chief Administrative Officer of Black River-Matheson, Chris Wray,  encouraged striking workers to go back to work and accept the conditions posed by the Township without negotiations, writing: “the Township will now accept for re-employment any staff member who is prepared to agree to the following terms”. These new conditions would make numerous key protections contained in the previous collective agreement negotiated with CUPE Local 1490 null and void.

Since the commencement of labour action, three CUPE Local 1490 members have been criminally charged for actions related to their participation in legal strike activities. CUPE raised this with the Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police on 8 March, reminding that CUPE Local 1490 is engaged in a legal strike making a legitimate call for better wages for workers who deliver important services.

These actions by the Township on striking municipal workers by are at odds with the fact that strikes are a legal labour action protected under Canadian constitutional law; and recognized as a legitimate form of peaceful protest protected under international labour law.

The 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects freedom of association as one of the fundamental freedoms for all Canadians. Furthermore, the Freedom of Association Convention (C. 87) and the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention (C.98) of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) are fundamental international labour standards and human rights obligations of States. ILO C. 87 recognises that workers have a fundamental right to engage in strikes as a means to peacefully pursue their economic and social interests. Canada is an ILO member and has ratified both fundamental conventions namely in 1972 and 2017, it is therefore held accountable to comply with them.

Finally, governments have an obligation to respect picket lines established during lawful strikes. Picketing is a legitimate form of peaceful protest and is protected under international labour standards. It is essential that authorities refrain from any interference that could undermine the right of workers to engage in such activities.

CUPE and PSI stand up for the labour rights of Black River-Matheson municipal workers

CUPE has taken this bitter labour dispute up nationwide and is challenging it legally.

We got our legal advice and we’ve already made the decision that CUPE will challenge this improper and indefensible move; challenge the trespass notice by supplementing our existing Unfair Labour Practice complaint; and we intend to challenge the notice before the Superior Court,” said Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario. “Local 1490 knows we have their back, and this Township will know that what they’re doing won’t stand” he said.

On 19 March PSI General Secretary Daniel Bertossa wrote to Mayor Bender demanding a swift, negotiated and fair resolution to this conflict. “Mayor Bender, this is a violation of the principle of good faith bargaining – and we urge you to reconsider your position. We are extremely concerned about this situation and we call upon you to end this unnecessary escalation” he said. “This way all Black River-Matheson municipal workers can continue to deliver essential, equitable, quality, public services to your shared community and you will be able to continue to attract and retain municipal workers that are more than ever essential”.

Bertossa also raised this case in a letter addressed to the Ontario State and Federal Ministries of Labour David Piccini and Seamus O'Regan. “Minister, we are extremely concerned about this situation and we call upon you to intervene through your good offices with the Township of Black River-Matheson so that this unnecessary escalation can come to a halt” he said.

We urge the Canadian government to ensure full compliance with the fundamental labour and human rights of these workers. Upholding these principles not only fosters a culture of respect for labour rights but also contributes to the promotion of social dialogue and peaceful conflict resolution” he concluded.

PSI asked Canadian local, state and federal labour authorities that the dispute comes to a peaceful settlement by:

  • lifting the trespass notice, swiftly restoring all CUPE members’ and representatives’ full access to the three municipal locations

  • ending  the hiring  of scab contract labour

  • ending the heavy-handed escalation in your treatment of  striking workers and removing all charges

  • not encouraging return to work conditional on the acceptance of your unilaterally set conditions that makes numerous key protections in the previous collective agreement null and void

  • re-opening good faith dialogue and collective bargaining with CUPE Local 1490 to rapidly find a mutually agreed resolution to the dispute and reach a new collective bargaining agreement, in line with Canadian international obligations to international labour and human rights

  • committing to restoring a fair, constructive environment for all, ensuring that there will be no retaliation for striking workers and their families at the workplace and in the community for the exercise of their fundamental labour rights.


CUPE 1490 - Fred Hahn, CUPE President

Black River Matheson and CUPE Local 1490 members are the same essential, frontline workers who make immense sacrifices to provide high quality, continuous, resilient, equitable services to the Township daily: they deserve and are entitled to decent working conditions and fair treatment. 

PSI Online campaign action: Mayor Bender to return to the bargaining table and restore fair workplace relations now!

PSI is calling on its Global Local and Regional Government (LRG) Network unions and all PSI affiliates to support Black River Matheson municipal workers and CUPE Local 1490 members on strike by signing this online petition calling on Mayor Bender to return to the bargaining table and restore fair workplace relations now!

Sign the petition

Subscribe for weekly updates