Support builds for locked out Caterpillar workers in Canada

Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario, Canada Federation of Labor said last Monday that the Ontario labor movement will mobilize to support members of Canadian Auto Worker Local 27 who have been locked out of their jobs at Electro-Motive Diesel (EMD) after they rejected a 50 percent pay cut. Ryan said that union members across the province stand ready to stop replacement workers from crossing picket lines and taking away the jobs of the union members.

“Workers across the province are angry and feel betrayed by their government, and they’re ready to fight together to defend good jobs,” Ryan said. “We are putting corporations and all levels of government on notice that 2012 will be marred by labor unrest if they continue to destroy the livelihoods of Ontario’s middle class.”

EMD, a company wholly owned by Caterpillar, Inc. of the US, locked out its workers, who manufacture locomotives at the London, Ontario plant, on January 1.

Caterpillar is rumored to be using the lockout and its stand-off with its Canadian labor force to close down the EMD plant in Ontario and move its work to Muncie, Indiana, where another Caterpillar company that manufacturers locomotives, Progress Rail, opened a new plant in October.

Caterpillar purchased EMD in 2010. The purchase of a Canadian company by a foreign company was approved by Prime Minister Stephen Harper with the perceived understanding that the jobs at the EMD plant would remain in Canada.

Local 27 President Ken Lewenza said that the lockout and the possibility that the jobs may be moved to the US threatens the general community of London as well as the workers and their families who are directly affected. CAW has lodged a formal complaint with the government over Caterpillar’s violation of the Investment Canada Act.

Caterpillar’s proposed wage cuts do not appear to be related to financial difficulty. Its share value rose 53 percent in 2010 and it recorded a $3.9 billion operating profit according to its annual report. For the first nine months of 2011, Caterpillar reported profits of $3.3 billion. “We’re having a great year in 2011, and 2012 is shaping up to be better,” Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman told investors.

In addition to support from the Ontario Federation of Labor, CAW Local 27 members have also been receiving support from other unions and members of the community. In a letter to the union’s membership the Leadership Team of the Sisters of St. Joseph wrote, “We stand in solidarity with your efforts to bargain for fair wages and benefits. We recognize that the loss of good manufacturing jobs in Canada feeds the wider pattern of the growing gap between rich and poor. Such disparity threatens the fabric of our community and country.”


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