Steelworkers In Canada Fight Attacks On Union

The Militant, Vol.61 no.3. 20 January 1997

TORONTO—Seventy-six members of Local 6917 of the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) have been on strike against S.A. Armstrong here for eight months. Armstrong, a producer of industrial pumps, forced the union out on strike in a drive for concessions that has turned into an attempt to bust the union. Armstrong has been running the plant with strikebreakers, making this one of the first industrial strikes in Ontario where strikebreakers have been used since Conservative Party premier Mike Harris lifted provincial anti-scab legislation.

The company's demands have included instituting an incentive program; paying overtime premiums only after workers have put in 40 hours in a week (as opposed to premiums kicking in after eight hours on a shift), and extending probation to six months without benefits or union protection. The company refuses to guarantee seniority rights and insists that there would be no floor to the incentive program—in other words, workers who don't make incentive goals would see their wages drop below the minimum for their job classification.

Armstrong is now saying even if agreement is reached on contract issues it refuses to bring union members back to work based on seniority. The company insists it will keep some of the replacement workers and bring back union members based on their productivity before the strike and general aptitude. Armstrong says it will require workers to take an English, math, and general aptitude test before deciding who can come back to work.

If you accept this there won't be a next contract because there won't be a union, said Paul Cooper, a striker who has worked at Armstrong for 18 years.

Many of the strikers at Armstrong are near retirement age, and many of the older workers are foreign-born. Why do they want us to take a language test? To push people like him out the door, said Wayne Glover, pointing to one of the most senior strikers—a skilled worker who has been running machines in the plant for over 20 years. They don't want to have to pay him all of his vacation pay and benefits.

Mike Novak, a younger striker, explained the impact new job classifications would have on his wages. I was making around $18-19 an hour. They want us to take this test. For my classification, the highest level they would pay is about $15.87 an hour. I could be making under $12 an hour. I think it stinks.

The strike has remained solid. Strikers do daily picket duty. Video cameras are rolling 24-hours a day on the pickets and plant property. The company union-busting effort has been backed by the police, who have a constant presence in the area. They have come out en masse to help the company usher in the scabs during every solidarity rally organized at the plant. Two strikers are currently facing charges on strike-related issues.

Armstrong strikers have made it a point to hook up with other workers on strike. Several workers walked picket lines at Shopper's Drug Mart, during the General Motors strike, and at a strike by workers at an auto parts distribution center organized by the Canadian Auto Workers.

Lab workers in New Zealand hold walkout CHRISTCHURCH—Sixteen members of the Medical Laboratory Workers Union at Canterbury Health Laboratories here struck for three days around Christmas. The workers are from the transfusion medicine center that provides blood products to all the health services in the Canterbury region. More than 100 people work in the laboratories. The 16 strikers, 15 of whom are women, have been working without a collective contract since April 1995.

At their morning pickets the workers explained they were demanding that their employer, the Crown Health Enterprise (CHE) known as Canterbury Health, enter negotiations over their contract. They have rejected a contract modeled on the one that covers those laboratory staff members who have resigned from the union in the last couple of years—roughly half of the workforce.

Strikers say the contract would particularly affect the shift workers in the department, which operates around the clock. Rosie Hawes told the Militant that they want to call us in whenever they like. Another striker, David Wisternoff, said that the proposed contract states that the final decision on hours of work will be management's.

Part of the backdrop to the strike is a series of major changes in the public health system that has occurred over the last eight years. The CHEs and their funding body, the Regional Health Authority (RHA) have been expected to operate under a profit motive.

One side of these and other reforms is an escalation of waiting lists for operations. The other side is a series of tussles over staff conditions. In 1996 cleaning and catering work at major hospitals in Christchurch was contracted out in spite of picket lines mounted by cleaners. The pickets said that there is widespread support for their case in the transfusion center. We are a representative group, but others will be affected said one young striker, Lia Kubala.

Hexcel strikers `won't go back unless we all do' WEST VALLEY CITY, UTAH—In mid-December, by a vote of 86 to 7, striking members of Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers Union (OCAW) Local 2-591 voted to continue their strike against Hexcel Corp. The 93 percent no vote was motivated by the company's proposal that five strikers not return to work. Becky Mower, a striker with 13 years' seniority at the plant said, The company says the five participated in picket line misconduct, but they only tell part of the story.

The company hired goons from out of state shortly before the strike began November 2. Among other things, they have video-taped the picket lines. Early in the strike, before a judge ruled against more than five pickets per gate, there were some altercations between scabs and strikers.

John Harvey, a striker with 16 years' seniority, told the story of Gavino Agauyo, one of the five on the company's list not to return to work. Harvey explained, Gavino, a very calm, soft-spoken kind of person, was walking the line, when he was hit by a scab's car coming into the plant. In response, Gavino hit the car with his picket sign.

The company held hearings explaining why the five, including Gavino, were fired, Harvey continued. They showed video tapes of the incidences. The tape concerning Gavino just showed him hitting the scab's car with the picket sign, but excluded what happened seconds beforehand—the scab's car hitting Gavino. All the cases were like this—editing of the tapes by the company.

The rejected company proposal included a $1.75 raise over the company's original proposal. However, this would still amount to a pay-cut since Hexcel cut workers wages by 33 percent after buying the plant from Hercules last July.

Faye Anderson, a striker who has been laid off a few times in her three years at the plant said, We'll never go back unless we all go back.

Based on a letter the company sent stating that all workers had been replaced, strikers received notification that they will begin receiving state unemployment benefits.

Thirty out of the 143 OCAW members at Hexcel have crossed the picket line. The majority are maintenance workers, said Mower, who were offered a better contract than the production workers. The company has hired 43 workers since the strike began.

Harvey said, Union members from Kennecott Copper, Mailhandlers Union members and OCAW members from Alliant have been helping regularly in picket duty.