Weekly news update, August 1, 2012

CEP-CAW merger talks | CAW and the Big Three | Alberta government & labour statistics | British workers and the Olympics | Air Canada | Peterborough Baskin-Robbins | Locked-out ConEd workers

CAW-CEP merger talks
On Wednesday August 1, a joint press conference was held by the Canadian Autoworkers union and the Community, Energy and Paperworkers union, presented “Towards a New Union”, a report outlining the prospects of merging the two unions. The report was drafted over many months by a Proposal Committee composed eight members from both unions.

The document recommends the merger of the two unions. Reasons for the merger include declining union density, and the need to reverse a 30 employers offensive.

The new union would have over 300,000 members, making it the largest private sector union in Canada. Half of the membership would be in Ontario, 70,000 in the Western provinces and 50,000 members in Quebec. Nearly a hundred thousand would be in manufacturing, with 130,000 in resources, transportation and communications. 76,000 would span all other sectors, including health and social services, retail, hospitality and gaming.

The Proposal Committee also recommends an emphasis on a new organizing drive once the union is formed. This drive would involve not simply unionization efforts, but opening up membership to unemployed workers, those involved in unsuccessful union drives, individual workers in non-union workplaces, students and youth, as well as contract, self-employed and precarious workers.

Given the CEP’s affiliation to the NDP and the CAW’s non-affiliation to the party, the New Union will leave such questions of NDP affiliation to future conventions. Political orientations in Quebec will be left to Quebec members.

As a number of working groups are being established to work on a variety of issues including a new constitution, the Proposal Committee recommends a founding convention in 2013 based on support for the proposal at CAW and CEP conventions.

CAW and the Big Three
The CAW’s negotiations with the Big Three have yet to start, but the war of words is already heating up. Autoworkers have already been put on notice by the Big Three that they will be seeking concessions, including wage cuts based on debatable claims about higher hourly costs in Canada than the United States. In the wake of recent reports demonstrating a remarkable rebound in revenue, especially at Chrysler, CAW president Ken Lewenza stated that wage cuts and two-tier wage systems would be a non-starter in negotiations. Bargaining with the Big Three begins August 14 and 15.


Alberta government playing with labour shortage statistics
The Alberta Federation of Labour has accused the Alberta government of exaggerating the labour shortage in the province through mathematical calculations not previously used in the province or anywhere else in Canada. The Alberta government’s method presents a labour shortage of 114,000 workers by 2021. The AFL has found that labour supply will in fact outpace labour demand in 2021 through the same methods used by the Alberta government prior to 2009. The AFL’s figures were confirmed by the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada. AFL president Gil McGowan made the following comments about the fudged figures.

“It’s likely the result of pressure from employers who have discovered that the notion of a massive labour shortage can be used as an effective political tool to win policies that drive down wages…Working closely with the Harper government, low-wage lobbyists like the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and non-union construction groups like the Merit Contractors Association have been pressuring the government to use creative math to manufacture a crisis. This crisis is then being used to win policies that shortchange hardworking Canadians out of wages that keep up with the cost of living.”


British workers and the Olympics
In the weeks leading up to the London Olympics, labour action threatened by London bus drivers, British border guards, and cleaners have led to a series of victories as the British government seeks to avoid international embarassment. Twenty thousand London bus workers represented by the union Unite voted 71 percent in favour of an offer for bonus pay during the Olympics. Border guards, including passport and immigration officials at Heathrow Airport also called off a strike days before the Games started. Their union, the PCS, secured promises of more jobs, reversing attempts at job cuts which prompted the strike preparations in the first place. Meanwhile, London’s transport cleaners represented by RMT have carried out protests leading up to the games, including a work-to-rule action on London’s Underground and a 48-hour strike during the first two days of the Games. Their campaign against low wages has gone international and can be supported at labourstart.org.


Air Canada update
On July 30, Air Canada pilots suffered a blow in the arbitration forced upon them by federal back-to-work legislation following Air Canada’s lockout threats in March. The arbitrator, Douglas Stanley, imposed Air Canada’s last contract offer on the pilots who had rejected the offer with a 97 percent strike mandate following 19 months of bargaining. The Air Canada Pilots Association president Paul Strachan said “arbitration has imposed work rules that will cost many pilots their jobs, demoralize the rest and kick other important issues years down the road, where they will fester and undermine any effort to achieve positive culture change at our airline.

“The government’s political meddling in the labour market and heavy-handed legislation have utterly failed to achieve what only free collective bargaining can deliver: peace, stability and an engaged professional workforce. We will continue to challenge this unjust legislation in the courts and use every legal means to resist this arbitrary process.”

Less than two weeks before the ruling, Stephen Harper’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Derek Vanstone, was hired by Air Canada as Vice President of Corporate Strategy, Industry and Government Affairs. The Air Canada Pilots Association, the Canadian Autoworkers and Machinists have all denounced the appointment as a conflict of interest, confirming the collusion between Air Canada and the federal government.


Peterborough Baskin-Robbins closure
On September 28th, Peterborough’s Baskin-Robbins ice cream factory will close with the loss of 80 jobs, including 46 unionized jobs with the Canadian Autoworkers. These union members have reached a deal with the company for extended severance benefits. The factory is closing down not because of corporate financial woes but due to its inability to keep up with demand despite operating around the clock. If such a claim seems ridiculous, it is. The company will be moving its operations to a third party, Dean Foods, suggesting that the factory’s closure has less to do with productivity and more to do with lowering costs in order to boost profits.


Thousands Rally to Support Locked Out Con Ed Workers
The lockout of 8500 Con Ed workers in New York ended on July 26 as the company and the union, Utility Workers Local 1-2, entered into talks following the intervention of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. The governor’s move came shortly before major storms hit New York City, reversing his previous position that government intervention would contravene federal law. Such claims were made in response to union demands for the governor to step in to end the lockout. The lockout was sparked by the workers refusal to accept higher health insurance payments and changes to the pension plan including weakened plans for new hires.

During the lockout, Con Ed has used over 5000 managers, supervisors, contractors and retirees to scab on the locked out workers. However, in a city whose labour movement has been recently galvanized by Occupy Wall Street, public support for the union has been high. Several protests, including several marches in the thousands.


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