BRACEBRIDGE — A labour dispute that’s led to a “lockout” at a local manufacturing plant has union groups “shocked” at a demand for fewer sick days.

Fenner Dunlop in Bracebridge, which makes conveyor belts for the North American industrial and commercial market, has their 60 workers from United Steelworkers Local 7949 on the picket lines this week, after they say the company asked for “concerning concessions” from their last contract.

The North Simcoe Muskoka & District Labour Council (NSMDLC) says it was “shocked” to learn that one of those concessions is a reduction in the number of paid sick days allotted to those workers.

“During a global pandemic, in a community that is working hard to keep COVID-19 under control, and as the issue of paid sick days makes the almost-daily news cycle, we find this company totally tone deaf,” labour council president Mike De Rose says in a release.

“These workers are in a manufacturing setting, a setting that has been problematic in controlling the spread of COVID-19 in the 905 and 416.

“They need paid sick days so that they can stay home and keep their colleagues safe if they develop symptoms, require a COVID test, or have to wait for results.”

He says negotiations to reach the last few previous contracts were strained.  USW 7949 representatives say workers have been presented seven pages of concessions since their contract expired last year.

De Rose says he knows how important these jobs are to Muskoka.

“These are good-paying jobs and the workers here are worthy of respect and of good-faith bargaining. These are the kinds of jobs we want in Muskoka.  Workers can support their families as well as the local economy, and, while treating workers well, employers can still make a lot of money in the process.”

DeRose wants local supporters to use social media to call Fenner Dunlop back to the table or to support the workers by stopping by their picket at 700 Ecclestone Dr. with snacks or to picket with them, or even just to honk their horns in support.

Fenner Dunlop workers, members of the United Steelworkers, are on picket duty this week at the entrances to the manufacturer on Ecclestone Drive in Bracebridge in the midst of a contract dispute.