Labour News Brief: Postal workers, Ontario teachers, CAW auto parts strikes

Postal Workers | Ontario teachers & Bill 115 | CAW auto parts strikes

THE “NO” VOTE GAINS SUPPORT AMONG POSTAL WORKERS has received news that the executives of the Calgary, Saskatoon and Winnipeg CUPW locals have decided to oppose the Urban Operations tentative agreement announced on October 5. This confirms informal conversations we’ve had with other postal workers that there are serious reservations and often outright opposition to what is being proposed. The two-tier wage and pension scheme are the outstanding problems, but Jeff Callaghan, the CUPW Atlantic Region National Director, has raised more:

“The tentative agreement you are being asked to ratify includes many of the same rollbacks members voted overwhelming against and went on strike just last year to oppose: accepting to give up our Sick Leave benefits for STD, eliminating a wash-up break and the imposition of a two-tier wage scheme for new hires.

It also includes a major change to our Defined Contribution Pension Plan for new hires. So while wages, benefits and pensions of current workers are protected, for now, workers coming into the post office will face a totally different picture. They will start working beside you making $6 an hour less and will have to work almost a third of their career before they make what you make in wages (7 years). These workers will also have to work 5 extra years before they will become eligible to retire.”

Look forward to more coverage, including interviews, by on the CUPW tentative agreement vote that is taking place between November 13 and December 19.

Thousands of Ontario high school teachers, education workers, support and admin staff represented by OSSTF may soon take job action as seven school boards will be in a legal strike position on November 7. As the Globe and Mail reports:

“Mr. Coran called the job action, which looks nearly inevitable at this point, a “sort of administrative strike” as the types of services teachers will stop providing include attending staff meetings, supervising students outside the classroom and answering parent e-mails outside of school hours.”

Meanwhile, the Ontario legislature has been prorogued since October 15 when Dalton McGuinty unexpectedly announced his decision to resign as Premier. While his resignation can be attributed to a combination deep unpopularity, deteriorating labour relations and scandal surrounding the closure of two power stations, the prorogation itself is also deeply worrying.

The prorogation confirms a trend which began with Harper’s 2008 and 2009 prorogations of Parliament and has now spread to the provincial level courtesy of Liberal premiers in BC and Ontario. These prorogations are suspending Canada’s already-limited forms of representative democracy to advance narrow, partisan political agendas. Harper prorogued in late 2008 to avoid a constitutionally-legitimate attempt by the Liberals and NDP to form a new government. Then he prorogued in late 2009 to avoid parliamentary investigations into Canadian knowledge of and complicity in the torture of prisoners by our so-called allies in the Afghan National Police. BC Premier Christy Clark and Dalton McGuinty have both prorogued in attempts to dig their way out of labour problems amidst deep unpopularity and scandal. How far are federal and provincial governments willing to go to curtail democratic institutions in order to protect and advance their austerity agendas?

Bill 115 provides an answer for the time being. Even though Ontario’s legislature is suspended, Bill 115 allows for the provincial cabinet (all of Ontario’s ministers and the Premier) to stop any labour disruption by the teachers unions without legislative approval. This is pre-emptive back-to-work legislation – but without the oversight of the MPPs elected by the people of Ontario. To put it another way, democratic institutions are being pushed aside in order to suspend the rights to collective bargaining and to strike; both of which are protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Bill 115 will be challenged in court and there’s a good chance it will be repealed. But a similar court challenge emerging from the BC teachers struggles of 2003-4, took seven years to resolve. Action is needed in the present, too.

This is the political terrain in which Ontario’s teachers and labour movement finds itself in. It is difficult and unfamiliar for labour and the large numbers of Ontarians opposed to budget cuts, attacks on unions and corruption. For the time being, one can be forgiven if organized labour has no visible strategy for confronting McGuinty’s anti-union agenda at present. However, at some point, a strategy will need to be developed.

Four hundred workers represented by CAW walked off the job in Whitby at Lear Corp. Within hours, the strike against concessions was able to idle one of the lines at the General Motors assembly plant in Oshawa which depends exclusively on car seats supplied by the Whitby factory. Concessions were demanded despite Lear’s profitability and the fact that the workers gave up $30 million in concessions in 2009 to prevent the company’s bankruptcy. On October 30, after only two days, the strike ended but details of bargaining are not yet known.

Meanwhile, 65 workers are on strike at Wescast Industries in Strathroy, Ontario, some 35 kilometres west of London. Represented by CAW Local 504, the workers rejected a “final offer” contract by 60 percent and took to the picket lines on October 27. The union alleges that the employer is not interested in fair bargaining and intends to shut down the plant and move operations to China. Picket lines are 24-hours and CAW Local 27, which represented workers at Electro-Motive Diesel in London, has thrown its support behind the workers. The factory supplies exhaust manifolds for engines built at General Motors in St. Catharines, but the strike is not expected to stop engine production.

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