Updates and Information
OFL OFFICERS TO VISIT LONDON PICKET LINES TO LAUNCH MASSIVE MOBILIZATION:
Electro-Motive plant to be site of massive Day of Action against corporate greed
(LONDON, ON) ─ The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) Secretary-Treasurer Nancy Hutchison and Executive Vice-President Irwin Nanda will join CAW Local 27 members on the picket line on Monday, January 9 at the London, Ontario plant of Electro-Motive Canada (a subsidiary of U.S. industrial giant Caterpillar Inc.). The Officers will be marking the start of the second week of the lock-out by bringing news of the OFL’s province-wide effort to mobilize thousands of workers for a massive London Day of Action against Caterpillar.
CAW targets ‘hot cargo’ UNION FIGHTS BACK: ‘It’s a severe response to a severe problem,’ official says
By Norman De Bono, The London Free Press
OFL TO MOBILIZE MASSIVE RALLY IN LONDON AGAINST CATERPILLAR INC:
London Day of Action declared for Saturday, January 21 at 11 am
(LONDON, ON) ─ The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) today issued a call to workers across Ontario to mobilize for a massive rally in London, Ontario on Saturday, January 21 to oppose Electro-Motive Canada (a subsidiary of U.S. industrial giant Caterpillar Inc.) and its attack on decent paying Canadian jobs.
“We see this fight as being central to the entire labour movement and we are going to dig in our heels and fight Caterpillar with everything we’ve got,” said OFL President Sid Ryan. “Good jobs and retirement security are being threatened by greedy corporations and every level of government. If workers don’t start to fight back, decent jobs will become a thing of the past and the middle class will be decimated.”
Electro-Motive locked out workers at its London-based diesel train plant on New Year’s Day. It was the latest tactic in the company’s attempt to slash benefits and cut wages from $35 to $16.50 an hour, after a year in which Caterpillar enjoyed billion dollar profits and a 20 percent boost to production. The company is rumoured to be planning to take advantage of Ontario’s lax labour laws by bringing in scab labour to keep the plant operational while bullying the union into devastating concessions. Many fear that the company’s hidden agenda is to move production to a U.S. plant in Indiana.
“This greedy multi-national corporation is trying to bulldoze living standards in Canada. If Caterpillar is successful in halving wages and gutting benefits, families in London will lose their homes and the whole community will suffer,” said Ryan. “Prime Minister Harper and his friends on Bay Street don’t seem to care about the livelihood of working Canadians, so we are going to raise enough of a ruckus that it will be impossible for them to ignore us.”
In calling a Day of Action against Caterpillar, the OFL has promised to bus thousands of public and private sector workers from across Ontario to the London plant to demonstrate the support for the workers of Electro-Motive Canada. The rally will draw attention to the failure of the Harper government to protect Canadian jobs and interests when domestic companies are acquired by foreign multi-nationals. It will also call on Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty to support fair collective bargaining by banning the use of scabs in labour disputes.
“This mass rally is meant to define 2012 as a year of militant resistance against corporate greed. Workers are fed up with growing income inequities in our society and the governments that are allowing citizen-funded corporate tax cuts to fatten CEO salaries while delivering no net benefit to our economy or our families,” said Ryan. “The message for employers is simple: support decent jobs and benefits or it won’t be business as usual in Ontario.”
The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) represents 54 unions and one million workers in Ontario. OFL President Sid Ryan is the voice of Ontario’s labour movement.
Jobs from Canada coming to Muncie?
A labor dispute north of the border might mean work could come to Muncie. But are we stealing jobs?
A new locomotive is unveiled to a crowd at Progress Rail’s open house in October 2011. A labor dispute in Canada might mean more work will becoming to the Progress Rail plant in Muncie
Jan. 7, 2012
MUNCIE -- The story is one that's familiar to Muncie manufacturing workers: A global corporation asks its union laborers for contract concessions, including substantial pay cuts. The workers refuse, gambling that their employer will take away their work and send it to a country where workers are paid less than half as much.
Except that this isn't the 1970s and workers in a Muncie automotive parts plant aren't worried about their jobs being shipped to Mexico.
It happened just last week, and it was Canadian workers who feared their labor dispute with Caterpillar might mean their plant will be shut down and their work reassigned to lower-paying laborers and welders at Caterpillar's Progress Rail locomotive plant in Muncie.
While most officials in Muncie told The Star Press last week they were only vaguely aware of the dispute involving the parent company of one of Muncie's newest industrial employers, Muncie has been all over the news in Canada, where the labor discord and Jan. 1 lockout of more than 400 workers at Caterpillar's Electro-Motive Diesel (EMD) plant in London, Ontario, have prompted concern from government officials and the media.
Workers at the plant were locked out after they refused to accept 50 percent pay cuts. Several news accounts noted that the EMD workers' $30-an-hour pay rate was high compared to the $12.50 to $14.50 an hour reportedly paid at Progress Rail's Cowan Road plant. The comparison prompted some less-than-complimentary comments about Muncie.
"Muncie may be located in the United States but it is a city becoming known for its Third World wages," said the Digital Journal, a Toronto, Canada-based news website.
The U.S. and Canadian mainstream media, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, followed the labor dispute closely, as have pro-worker websites.
The World Socialist Web Site even weighed in, reporting that work at Progress Rail in Muncie was "proceeding at a snail's pace. One (worker) told the WSWS that 60 workers had quit the Muncie plant last week, taking their tools with them. 'They can't keep people at that pay,' he said."
Progress Rail -- which has been cautious in releasing information about the Muncie plant, even refusing to confirm how many workers are employed there -- declined to comment last week.
"In regards to your inquiry, the company does not comment on questions specific to production at any of its facilities," Progress Rail spokesman Barbara Cox told The Star Press when asked about how the Canadian dispute might affect the Muncie plant.
The lack of information means that workers and officials in two countries can only watch events unfold, speculate about what might happen next and wonder if it might mean more jobs for Muncie.
"I think it's good news," said Eric Kelly, an urban planner and professor at Ball State University. "It's a good solid company. I don't lack empathy for union workers, but from a community perspective, it's good news."
Mike Jones, a Delaware County Council member and former official of United Auto Workers Local 499, verbalized the dilemma of balancing hopes for new jobs versus concerns about capitalizing on another community's bad fortune.
"I would not do anything locally to undermine the Canadian auto workers and what they're trying to do," Jones said. "If they can't reach an agreement and the work is leaving, I would just as soon it come here."
When state and local officials gathered at the former Westinghouse/ABB plant on Muncie's southwest side in October 2010, the future looked bright: Thanks to a ready workforce -- made up in part of manufacturing workers who lost their jobs when Chevrolet and BorgWarner Automotive plants in Muncie shut down in 2006 and 2009, respectively -- and millions of dollars in state and local incentives, Progress Rail would open a locomotive assembly plant in the 700,000-square-foot building and create 650 new jobs by 2012, with an estimated annual payroll of $28.7 million.
Gov. Mitch Daniels and Progress Rail officials from Alabama hailed the development, which marked a return to large-scale manufacturing in Muncie. The idea of making locomotives seemed old-school but safe compared to Brevini Wind's plans to make gearboxes for wind turbines in its new Muncie-area plant. Brevini announced in 2008 it would hire 450 workers locally but by April 2011 the company told county officials that the sluggish economy and the slow development of the wind industry meant it would have -- at best -- 200 people working in 2012.
The excitement about Progress Rail was tempered only by reports throughout 2011 that the company had some difficulty finding workers. Some attributed the difficulty to a lack of training in welding techniques the company needed. Others said drug screens disqualified some potential workers. Others -- including employees who talked to The Star Press -- blamed worker turnover on wages of $12.50 to $14.50 an hour.
Progress Rail held an open house in October to showcase the first two locomotives built locally. The company declined to say how many people it employed and speakers at the open house gave three different workforce numbers ranging from 150 to 180 people.
But the possibility of Canadian locomotive contracts -- and Canadian workers -- hung, mostly unspoken, over the local enterprise throughout 2011.
Canadian workers already here
The January 2011 issue of Trains magazine -- an in-depth look at the railroad industry -- reported that work might shift from EMD in Canada to its sister plant Progress Rail in Muncie because the company wanted to win a contract to make passenger diesels for Amtrak, the government-owned commuter rail provider. Government regulations require that Amtrak contracts go to American plants.
In March, The Star Press noted that a Canadian man, a retiree from Progress Rail, had been offered a job at the Muncie plant and wondered how he would be received by the community. By the summer months, more than a dozen Canadians were working at the plant, according to employees.
Before the end of the year, Muncie was in the news north of the border as the Canadian labor dispute broke out.
According to media accounts, Caterpillar asked the more than 400 workers at the Ontario plant to take a pay cut of roughly 50 percent, forego cost of living adjustments and begin making co-pays for their health care costs. The Canadian Auto Workers union refused and the lockout began.
David Olive of the Toronto Star wrote that Caterpillar has "the upper hand" in such disputes.
"Even Walmart Stores Inc. can't match Caterpillar's resolve in dictating terms to its workers," Olive wrote. "The firm has a practiced skill at 'taking a strike' for as long as required until workers straggle back to work across their own picket lines."
Olive noted that Caterpillar plants in Mexico and Muncie are "ready to fill whatever orders London cannot due to a prolonged unionized-labor outage."
The New York Times reported on the lockout, cited the Muncie plant and noted, "Some of the union's executive members have suggested that Caterpillar's contract demands were intended to provoke a shutdown of the Canadian factory as a prelude to moving all production to the United States."
It is that possibility that makes Muncie officials with union backgrounds uneasy.
Muncie in a Catch-22?
"To ask for a 50 percent pay reduction is pretty extraordinary," Jones said. "If that facility is making money, it begs the question, how much is enough?"
Mayor Dennis Tyler -- who took office a week ago today -- said he was saddened and concerned to hear about the Canadian labor dispute.
"What happens between companies and their employees is really out of our control," said the longtime member of Muncie Firefighters Local 1348. "If they make a decision to shut that plant and move it somewhere else, that's the way of the corporate world.
"But it puts people in our community in a Catch-22," the mayor added. "We're tickled to death to see job growth in our community, but people here have seen their jobs leave. But for those in our community that have seen their plants close, it might be an opportunity again."
Ball State's Kelly was upbeat about the implications if Muncie's Progress Rail plant picks up work from an organized labor facility.
"We've historically had a reputation as a union town," Kelly said. "If you've got businesses moving here because they think they can get good labor at good rates, that's not bad."
Hope for the future?
For Muncie business owners like Lewis Coulter -- who has owned the Red Dog Saloon next door to Westinghouse, ABB and now Progress Rail for 34 years -- better paying jobs are the key to prosperity for not only workers but the community.
Coulter's bar -- where the governor stopped in for a sandwich and a beer in October 2010 after the Progress Rail announcement -- was in the old days packed with workers at the nearby plant. Not anymore.
"We see very few from the plant at the Red Dog," Coulter said. "They're not making enough money. We used to see people stop in and eat before they went to work and come in after work and have a few beers. We don't see any of it anymore."
Jones said last week he hopes higher wages -- and union representation -- could still come to the Progress Rail plant here.
"I still have hopes of seeing that plant in Muncie organized," he said.
Jones noted that the ups and downs of labor-management relations can have differing short-term and long-term effects on a community. Jones said that after the Chevrolet/New Venture Gear plant where he worked closed in 2006, an agreement was reached that a new local plant, Magna Powertrain, would be represented by the UAW. That didn't happen, but when Magna later took over a New Venture Gear plant in New York, some of that plant's production lines were moved to Muncie, fueling a recent Magna expansion here.
As for Progress Rail's Canadian sister plant, Jones said, "I hope they work out their problems and prosper. If they can't, I would be happy to receive that work here."
Contact business editor Keith Roysdon at 213-5828. Find him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/keithroysdon.
We must support C.A.W. 27 Members!
Workers vs. Caterpillar = David vs. Goliath