by Doug Nesbitt
With management and scabs crossing a picket line limited by a court injunction, the 34 striking workers of SGS Canada in Sarnia are facing a tough battle.
“There should definitely be some sort of legislation or some kind of criteria where you can’t just fill all our jobs in a couple weeks, basically leaving us out on the picket line starving to death,” exclaims Dean Hart, spokesperson for the striking workers of Unifor Local 627.
Hart says the injunction limits pickets to holding up vehicles for only fifteen seconds. The injunction issued by an Ontario Superior Court judge on April 2 was requested by Imperial Oil, which contracts SGS Canada to load and unload trucks, rail cars, and boats at its Sarnia plant.
“They were saying that we were holding up and blocking their entrance gate for too long a period of time, and that we were obstructing their ability to work…
“We were not holding up any of the Imperial Oil vehicles, originally when we started. Then we found out Imperial Oil guys were shunting what we call scabs back and forth across the line in their vehicles. Then we started to hold them up.”
When the strike started on March 23, SGS’s management in Sarnia started to do their jobs. Now, according to Hart, management scabs have come from the US, Montreal and as far away as Halifax.
The workers have been without a contract since October. Bargaining had only concentrated on the company’s issues. Hart says “They wouldn’t discuss any monetary issues with us at all. We had no formal monetary offer from the company until 9-10 hours before the strike date.”
But the major issue for the striking workers is the part-timing of jobs and safety. When full-timers leave the job, SGS wants to replace them with part-timers. The company also wants to award all overtime to part-timers. This is a huge safety issue for the 34 full-timers on strike, almost all of whom are first responders with the fire department. Hart explains:
“The thing that we have with the part-time guys coming in and working in a refinery is, if you have a part-time guy that’s covering ten or twelve jobs, he could be two or three months before he’s doing the same job twice.
“We’re dealing with oils and pretty harsh chemicals. If you do something today and don’t do it for another three months, where’s your safety in that? Safety is the ability to do the job on a daily basis. We’re loading propane into rail cars. You don’t wanna be doing that in April and not doing it again until October. You need to know what you’re doing.”
Scabs and Injunctions
With Imperial Oil’s injunction and SGS scabs crossing the picket lines with ease, the striking workers are seeing no movement in bargaining.
“We have asked to go back to the table to negotiate a contract,” says Hart. “That’s been denied. We’ve put in another proposal. That’s been denied – they didn’t look at that. And we’ve also suggested that we go to arbitration, binding arbitration. We’ve got no reply on that.”
The injunction requested by Imperial Oil also has the strikers talking about the need for stronger laws against scabbing.
“We were talking about that on the picket line this morning, and some guys were saying we should do something,” recalls Hart. Hart says legislation is needed to stop scabs from being used to starve out strikers.
Ontario had anti-scab legislation passed by the one-term NDP government in 1994 but it was repealed by the Harris Tories in 1995. The consequences include the 19-month Crown Holdings strike in Toronto where the company has brought in scabs and wants them to permanently replace dozens of striking workers once the dispute is over. Near Woodstock, Carmeuse Lime and Stone workers are on strike but management is bussing in scabs from a nearby hotel.
Hart and the strikers strikers are looking for support in this difficult strike.
They’ve had some support from workers in Sarnia, but Hart says they need more.
“If we could get some more support on the line and you know what, morale’s the big thing. If we get support from other unions and locals, it helps with the morale on the line.”
Special thanks to Michele LaLonge-Davey for the photos and the Sarnia Common Front for the contacts