The MUN Students’ Union is boycotting a New Brunswick potato chip brand in a show of support for the company’s striking employees—a decision that one board member says was made undemocratically.
MUNSU took Covered Bridge Potato Chips off the shelves of the Attic, MUN’s on-campus convenience store, after the company’s workers started striking in early January.
The union sent a letter to Covered Bridge’s C.E.O. on January 19 saying it would not sell the chips until there was a “successful resolution of negotiations” in which the workers’ needs are “valued and respected.”
“We were selling the chips and we had to make a decision: are we going to undermine those workers that are being treated unfairly or are we going to stand in solidarity with them,” said MUNSU director of campaigns Brittany Byrnes.
This is not the first time MUNSU has boycotted products in solidarity with striking workers; the union refused to sell Labatt beer at the Breezeway when workers at that company went on strike in 2013.
“As a union we often do support labour unions,” said Byrnes,
“We like to consider the fact that students are going to be going into the workforce and we want those students to be able to enter a workforce that has positive working conditions for their workers.”
Decision made by five executive members
The decision to boycott the potato chips was made by the five members of the MUNSU executive and was not brought to a vote at the board.
Arts Rep Brendon Dixon said that it was a “gross misstep” to make this decision without discussion among MUNSU’s 40 elected members.
“It’s not right. We’re a democratic institution. We’re supposed to be talking about this, we’re supposed to be conversing about this, and we should be having some kind of vote,” said Dixon.
“This tells me that when we make big decisions like this, it’s ok if a few people change the stance of the union completely to fit their moral beliefs. There’s actually 40 of us. We are not a rubber stamp. We are elected just like the executives.
“MUNSU is not five executives. MUNSU is the board of directors and the student body.”
Byrnes said the executive planned to discuss the letter with the board at the union’s next meeting, but it was cancelled due to a snowstorm.
“The thing with strikes is often these things are a matter of working quite quickly, so that’s why we decided to sell the letter, because we had to do action quite quickly,” said Byrnes.
Byrnes also said that deciding what to stock at the Attic is a regular day-to-day operation that is usually not brought to the board.
Dixon said he will be making a motion to rescind the union’s stance at the next board meeting, not so much to withdraw support for the union, but to encourage a discussion around the issue.