Weekly labour news update, June 6, 2012

CP Rail workers go back to work
Back-to-work legislation ending the strike at CP rail passed on Thursday May 31, forcing an end to the labour action that began on May 23. The dispute will now be resolved through binding arbitration. It was the third back-to-work legislation bill passed by the Harper government since it was elected a year ago. While the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, representing the 4800 CP workers, disagree with the legislation, the union states it will not defy it. The immediate cause of the strike was a demand by CP Rail to cut pensions by 40 percent. The workers voted 95 percent in favour of strike mandate on April 27. The back-to-work legislation was justified by federal Minister of Labour Lisa Raitt as protecting the economy. The federal government is now under mounting public criticism for intervening in the bargaining process through back-to-work legislation, with some openly speculating as to whether or not we are amidst a transformation in Canada’s industrial relations regime. Stay tuned to our interview with George Smith later in the show on this subject.


CUPE 966 – Peel Ontario Works strike
Members of CUPE 966 at Peel Region Ontario Works went on strike Monday June 4. The union represents workers at Peel Region water and sewage treatment, road maintenance and recycling centres. These workers now join Peel Region social service workers who have been on strike for a month. Both striking bargaining units are fighting against an attempt to impose a two-tier wage system.


Canada Post workers suspended for wearing red square
Two Montreal postal workers were suspended by Canada Post on June 1 for wearing a red square on their uniform, the symbol of the Quebec student strike. The suspension came after some postal workers had been wearing the symbol for several weeks. The workers in question refused to take off the square after a verbal warning. One of the two workers also wore a pin denouncing Bill 78 for its curtailing of civil liberties. The suspensions were lifted on June 2 but the red square ban remains in effect. Citing back-to-work legislation by the federal government in June 2011, Alain Dugay, president of CUPW’s Montreal local opposed the ban, stating:
“For us it is simply a question of freedom of expression. We have to understand that a year ago we got a special law as well, a law forcing us to return to work, a law that served no purpose since a year later, nothing has been solved.”

Oshawa GM assembly plant closed, 2000 laid off
On June 1, General Motors announced plans to close the Consolidated Line, one of its last two Oshawa assembly plants. Two thousand workers, half of Oshawa’s GM workforce, will be laid off. The plant’s three shifts will be eliminated one after another, with the last shift ending in June 2013. This follows the closure of Oshawa’s GM truck plant in 2009 with the loss of 2600 jobs. The Canadian Autoworkers have called the closure as short-sighted, citing the plant’s announced closure in 2005 which was reversed by good car sales. In 2009, General Motors received a $61.5 billion bailout by the American, Canadian and Ontario governments. The Canadian and Ontario governments contributed $10.5 billion, with Canadian Autoworkers giving additional concessions. Chris Buckley, president of CAW Local 222 at the plant said

“Our members have done everything GM has asked us to do for quite some time all in the eyes of having jobs in the future…What more can we do to ensure we have a future? I am absolutely disgusted at GM’s decision to close the plant.”

The Canadian Autoworkers enter into negotiations with the Big Three – GM, Chrysler and Ford – later this year – the first negotiations since the bailouts of 2009.


Quebec student strike update
After four days of negotiating, the Quebec government unilaterally broke off talks with Quebec student leaders on May 31. The Liberal government of Jean Charest is still negotiating for a tuition hike while the student leaders have advanced proposals to keep tuition fees frozen for two years. Student leaders accused the government of refusing to listen to the student proposals. Gabriel Naduea-Dubois of the student coalition CLASSE stated that the government saw raising tuition fees as not a measure to finance education, “but as a goal in itself, a partisan objective.”

The government has also refused to withdraw Bill 78 which places extreme restrictions on the freedom of assembly and expression, a bill opposed by the Quebec bar association.

Yet, opposition to the Bill has served to spread solidarity actions across Canada and beyond. On the evening of May 30 casserole protests – people banging pots and pans – took place in dozens of Canadian cities and neighbourhoods, as well as Paris, London and New York. Weekly solidarity actions are now being planned across Canada for June 6 and subsequent Wednesdays.

Regina Hotel Workers on strike
130 housekeepers, kitchen staff and front desk workers at Regina’s Ramada Inn went on strike on June 4 demanding better wages and benefits. Represented by UNITE HERE Local 41, the workers have been without a contract for a year. They are paid on average $10.20 an hour, some 25 to 50 cents less than other hotel workers. The company offered a nine percent increase over four years while the union wanted it over three. CBC reports that scabs are being brought in from Saskatoon.

Tax breaks for Apple

Travis County, Texas is considering giving information technology giant, Apple, multimillion dollar tax breaks. In the second quarter of 2012 alone, Apple reported a net profit of over $11 billion dollars, an increase of 94 percent from the year before. Apple currently holds about two-thirds of its cash overseas, where it pays an international tax rates of less than 3 percent. The proposed policy would provide Apple with a tax rebate of up to 80 percent if it met certain conditions. Any business could be awarded the tax rebate if it invests at least $25 million in expansion, hires at least 50 local workers, and hires or trains the “economically disadvantaged”, according to a report that appeared in the Huffington Post.

As the County plans to give companies major tax breaks, the state of Texas will be laying off 49,000 teachers and cutting financial aid to college students. While Apple has promised to hire local workers for its Austin campus, estimates suggest that the economic benefits will come in at less than the value of the tax breaks themselves.


Low wages fuel manufacturing rebound in U.S.

Between March, 2011 and March, 2012, real wages for workers in the United States fell 0.6 percent. Over 12 million Americans remain out of work and over 7 million are working part-time jobs because they can’t find full time employment. While this is a dire situation for working people in the U.S., these gloomy figures have been promising to American manufacturers. U.S. manufacturing has increased by about 13 percent in the past 5 years but the increased productivity and output has not benefited working people. Wages remain below their 2009 levels and by some estimates are closer to where they were in 2000.


Payroll employment and wages, March 2012

In Canada, average weekly earnings were 2 percent higher in March of 2012 than they were the year before. This increase is due to a number of factors including wage growth, changes in the composition of employment by industry, occupation, and level of job experience. Workers employed in the professional, scientific, and technical services experienced the largest average wage increase of 5.2 percent. However, Canadians employed in health care and social assistance experienced a 0.6 percent decrease over the same time period.


Corruption and resistance at WalMart
Amidst a storm of controversy, WalMart employee Venanzi Luna delivered over 21,000 signatures from a Jobs with Justice petition calling on Walmart Chair Rob Walton and CEO Mike Duke to resign. Both Walton and Duke are being investigated for their involvement in a reported bribery scandal and executive cover-up of the incident. Despite questions from shareholders and calls for both to resign, the Waltons exercised their control of 49 percent of shares to keep their own jobs.

Part of the WalMart shareholder festivities involved appearances from Justin Timberlake and Celine Dion. Meanwhile, waves of protests across the country called for resignations from the senior company executives.


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