by Scotty Hertz
A fierce demonstration of worker solidarity was evident on the picket line at Guelph’s NGF Glass in the early hours of October 9th. Workers from a wide range of industries, sectors and unions braved the coldest morning of the fall so far to support the 28 striking members of Workers United Local 2641 (an SEIU affiliate), who hit the sidewalk on September 30th. As the crisp bright light of the full moon blended into the sunrise, it was clear that this line would not be breached easily.
“After being presented with the same “final” offer several times, the question was posed to the members. With a 99% turnout the result was unanimously in favour of a strike.”
Japanese-owned NGF, formerly a division of the Owens Corning plant next door, specializes in the manufacture reinforced fiberglass strands, which are used in a diverse range of products from racecar tires to concrete construction. The worker’s previous five-year contract expired on June 1st. In their most recent round of negotiations, typical of most these days, multiple issues were still on the table from seniority rights to vacation clawbacks. After being presented with the same “final” offer several times, the question was posed to the members. With a 99% turnout the result was unanimously in favour of a strike.
October has been rainy and chilly so far but this hasn’t dampened 2641’s resolve in the slightest. This small yet resilient picket line has been peaceful and respectful of the surrounding residential area, from which much support can be found. Passing vehicles continuously honk in support, from dump trucks and big rigs to Smart Cars and bicycles. Earlier in the week a load of a half dozen scab replacement workers arrived in a van with tinted windows to the surprise of the pickets. Fiberglass strand manufacturing isn’t your typical walk in off the street kind of work. No one is quite sure where the van or the scabs originated from – yet. A small amount of production was completed and sent off.
Two of the “replacement workers” out for a smoke break took it upon themselves to begin heckling the pickets from behind the security fence. A subsequent shouting match began with some of the Owens Corning workers, who were also on break in their area adjacent. Later in the day an NGF manager got in on the action, taking a moment to wave his pay stub in the air in a taunting manner. Local President Susan Taylor said that a long standing cordial relationship has spiraled into the current impasse over a roughly two year period. Many other locals in town have been in the same position recently and were eager to give support to their fellow workers.
Holding the line
A call for reinforcements went out via other locals and on social media in the evening, resulting in a peak turnout of about forty workers picketing the narrow driveway into the plant the next day. A single security guard and the ever present mystery man with video camera were getting nervous. A manager arrived by taxi declaring he was going to call legal and the police.
“Even with a long weekend fast approaching, it is clear that workers in Guelph will not be letting their guard down any time soon.”
The unmarked large white van arrived as expected shortly before 7am. Immediately a solid wall of pickets filled the entrance in a circle march that did not let up for a second. Members and reps from most of Guelph’s assorted unions, Labour Council and even a city council candidate were present. The police came and went without issue and after well over an hour on the verge of two, the long idling van took off after a chat with management. It was suspected they went to a nearby Tim Hortons to hang around only to return later but they did not reappear. The scabs had packed it in. No doubt they will be back.
Even with a long weekend fast approaching, it is clear that workers in Guelph will not be letting their guard down any time soon. Should you find yourself in town you’d be most welcome at 255 York Street at the corner of York Rd. (Hwy 7) and Waterworks Place near the railway tracks at any time until further notice.