Lucien Dallaire: The Boucherville facility is a service centre and we are about 95 workers there. It sells steel in all shapes -- steel plates, beams, tubes, etc. -- to a broad variety of customers from individuals to big companies like CANAM which makes construction products. We work on three shifts and also overtime on weekends.
TML: Your collective agreement expired on May 1. What are your main demands?
LD: The main thing for us is to restrict subcontracting. The company owns its own trucks and we have people who have been hired as truck drivers. But the company subcontracts their work and has them sweep floors or worse sends them home. Of course the contract workers are paid much less and have no union to defend them.
Another big issue for us is to get time off to do union work. The employer is trying to restrict as much as possible our time off to work on workers' compensation cases or file grievances. It is so absurd that it wants the day shift union reps to wait until after their shift to do union work. Those on the afternoon shift, 3 to 11 pm, are expected to do their union work on the weekend. On health and safety issues, if a worker gets injured during the week, the company demands that the union representation be made during the weekend! Formally, they recognize that there is a union but in practice they try to make it impossible for the union to operate.
Our sick days is another issue. We've only got four a year and the company wants to reduce it to two a year.
Three years ago we agreed to make concessions because of the economic crisis but now steel is selling well and still the company wants concessions.
At the bargaining table they do not even listen to us. When it is their turn to present their demands, we have to sit and listen to the chief negotiator for three hours. When it is our turn, she invents a pretext to leave, saying she does not have time, or in one case that she had a plane to catch and she just left the room. They don't want to hear any of our demands, which are quite modest. Basically what we want is to be able to do our job under acceptable conditions and do our union work.
TML: What happened on September 10?
LD: We took our break outside in the afternoon and when we went to go back to work the doors were locked. The security guards were already there. Nobody came to talk to us. We asked them if it was a lockout and they said no. So why can't we get in, we asked. No answer. We can't even park our cars in the parking lot. Since that afternoon the doors have been locked. The managers and secretaries go in while we are there on the streets. We are picketing 24/7 in front of the workplace.
They want to break our collective agreement. The first thing the chief negotiator told us the very first day we sat together was that our contract was going to get "very skinny." I have worked here for 19 years and this is the worst I have seen. And it is not only us, it is happening everywhere. The big corporations want to take control of everything. The laws don't mean anything to them.
(Translated from original French by TML. Photo: CSN)
Bombardier Workers and Communities in
Protest against the closure of the Goodyear tire plant in Valleyfield, February, 3, 2007, and other manufacturing operations in the Lower St. Lawrence.
At the moment, we are about 350 workers at the plant.
Ninety-five per cent of our contracts are for subway cars for U.S.
cities. The only Quebec contracts we ever had were the first one with
the Montreal subway, then a contract for commuter trains for the
Montreal metropolitan region and now the new Montreal
We estimate that for each direct job at the plant there are 10 spin-off jobs in the region. There are many who depend on this facility including suppliers. The region is huge but it has only a few big manufacturing plants. Besides Bombardier and the White Birch plant in Rivière-du-Loup there is not much large-scale manufacturing left. That is why people are so concerned about what is going on in La Pocatière.
In 2006, we were more than 1,000 production workers at the plant. Including the office staff we were more than 1,400. People who work here come from many neighbouring municipalities, especially those between Rivière-du-Loup and Montmagny. So what happens here has a huge impact on the region. There were times where we had mass layoffs at the plant. For example, for a while in 2010 we went down to about 90 workers. The whole region is affected, we all know each other. You always meet people who ask how it's going at Bombardier, when is the work going to pick up and so on.
TML: In your fight to keep manufacturing jobs, one of your main concerns is subcontracting. How does this problem pose itself?
ML: From 1975 to 2000 it is safe to say that we used to build subway cars from A to Z, from the engineering and design to their manufacture. Only the interior finish of the cars was done in Plattsburgh, New York. Starting in about 2000, we were told that it is now a global economy and Bombardier began subcontracting between its various plants. Before then, subcontracting was very marginal and would happen only when our production capacity was exceeded. Then, progressively over the years, metal cutting started being sent out and we lost more and more jobs. So our big fight at the moment is over subcontracting. We know that we won't go back to being 1,000 workers in the plant but what we are aiming for is to keep as many jobs as possible here.
So far we have been able to maintain the working conditions for those of us who remain. Since the 2002-2003 period, each round of bargaining has become more difficult but our main problem is with subcontracting. Bombardier always comes up with reasons to subcontract more work. We do not believe that the company is cutting its costs with subcontracting, because this is not shown in its figures. It is true that if you send work to Mexico, the wages are less but the transportation costs are higher. At some point Bombardier told us that subcontracting was good because specialization would take place at each facility, here, in Thunder Bay, the U.S. and Mexico. La Pocatière would get the stainless steel jobs, for example. But the reality is very different -- production is mixed. Subcontracting is done for organizational reasons that are internal to Bombardier. We are not sure exactly why it is being done but one thing is sure, it does not sound good for the future of the plant.
TML: One of the reasons Bombardier gives to justify subcontracting within its empire is the Buy America Act. According to Bombardier, it has to move a lot of its production to the U.S. because the Act requires rail manufacturers to produce at least 60 per cent of cars and locomotives on U.S. soil for those projects funded in whole or in part by the U.S. government. What is your take on this?
ML: We don't believe that this is the reason. The Buy America Act has been there for a long time and we have always lived with it. As I said, about 95 per cent of our contracts are for U.S. subway cars. We have always had between 60 to 65 per cent U.S. content. The reason why is that most of the materials are bought in the U.S. -- the steel, the electrical components, etc. That represents most of the costs that are involved in the making of subway cars. When you build a subway car, labour represents about 10-15 per cent only of the total expenditure. It is the materials that are expensive. That is how the U.S. content requirement was always met. It is the same thing for the production they are going to do in Mexico. They will abide by the requirements for U.S. content by buying most of the material in the States. For Bombardier to cite the Buy America Act to justify subcontracting is just a pretence.
TML: Tell us about your campaign to preserve the manufacturing jobs at Bombardier in relation to the contract to build the Montreal subway cars.
ML: We do all we can to maintain our jobs. We need them and the region needs them. In 2010, when Bombardier decided to transfer all the production for the Chicago subway cars to Plattsburgh, we prepared grievances and were ready to go to court to get an injunction. Then, in order to avoid going to court, we signed an agreement with Bombardier which explicitly says that as far as the production of the subway cars for Montreal is concerned, the primary parts and the minor and major sub-assemblies are going to be made in La Pocatière. This agreement was signed by both the union and the company. It was written in black and white. But as we start the work on this contract for Montreal, the agreement is being violated.
That is why we asked for a permanent injunction and filed a grievance against Bombardier. The hearing on the injunction took place last July and the judge ruled against us. A major reason for that is that Bombardier at the last minute softened its stand and agreed to give us back the production of some parts. So we were not able to prove it was urgent for us to get an injunction and we lost. The grievance on the substance of the matter will be heard in October. Our fight carries on and we are going to prove that Bombardier is violating the agreement.
One has to understand the game Bombardier is playing. We used to have in the plant all the machinery needed to produce the cars in-house including this new wave of subway cars for Montreal. We used to receive all the sheet metal and had the machinery to cut and machine the metal here. We still have that expertise. A few years ago, Bombardier started to say that the machines are too old, especially the metal cutters. The company removed some machines and then later on they said that it can't produce these parts because it doesn't have the machinery needed. Admittedly, one of these metal cutters was getting obsolete but the second was still good and with proper maintenance it would have been in top shape and we really have a great maintenance team here. Of course some investments would have been needed but what Bombardier wanted was to get rid of these machines.
At some point they told us that they needed to refurbish a whole fleet of machines, so that was one more reason to remove machinery. They told us that this was because they had a project they wanted to present to the head office, which as you may know is now in Berlin. We used to enquire regularly about the status of the project. Recently, we were told in passing that the project has been rejected, and that was the end of that. It all fits together. Once the machines are gone we are told that the refurbishing won't happen.
If Bombardier was acting in good faith it would buy a metal cutter. Such a machine is worth $1.3 million. With this machine we could do everything. I don't believe Bombardier for one minute when it tells us that it does not want to invest $1.3 million because there is not enough cutting work to be done to make money with this machine. They don't want to invest $1.3 million when the contract for the Montreal subway cars is worth $1.3 billion!
TML: You have distributed leaflets to inform the people of the region of these issues.
ML: Yes we did mass leafleting just before the summer to raise the people's awareness about what is going on at Bombardier. We handed out leaflets in many municipalities, here in La Pocatière, in Montmagny, Rivière-du-Loup, etc. Everybody took the leaflets. The overwhelming response of the people was "Yes, you are doing the right thing!" We have the people with us. People are worried about what is going to happen when we are done with the present contract with Montreal. There is one more fleet of subway cars for Montreal to be built after this one but no contract has been signed yet. We think about our youth. We want to keep them in the region but they won't stay here if they don't know if they will have jobs. That is a serious problem. We have laid off workers here who have lost their right to be recalled by Bombardier because they have been laid off for so long. The right of recall at the plant is six years and some workers have not been called back for six years now.
At the moment we are also involved in bargaining for our new collective agreement. We are still dealing with the non-monetary issues and have not dealt with the monetary issues yet.
(Translated from original French.
Photos: CSN, TML.)
On July 16, Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism and Stephen Khan, Alberta Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education, jointly announced the expansion of a Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) pilot project.
The pilot project was originally launched on June 1, 2011 under the Temporary Foreign Worker Annex to the Agreement for Canada-Alberta Cooperation on Immigration. It was restricted to the steamfitter/pipefitter occupation. Employers could hire steamfitters/pipefitters as temporary foreign workers without applying for a Labour Market Opinion (LMO). An LMO is a document outlining evidence of a shortage in a particular category of worker and proof that the employer advertised in Canada for workers but got no response. Now the employer will not have to show that they made any attempt to hire a Canadian citizen or resident before hiring a temporary foreign worker. Once a worker has received a work permit, they can move between employers without requiring any authorization from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada/Service Canada.
Effective July 16, the Alberta pilot project expanded beyond the steamfitter/pipefitter occupation to include: welder, heavy duty equipment mechanic, ironworker, millwright, industrial mechanic, carpenter and estimator.
In an interview with the Edmonton Journal, Kenney explained that workers under the pilot project coming from countries where a visa is not required would be able to pick up a work permit on arrival at the airport.
The Harper and Redford governments claim that they are addressing "labour shortages." According to the announcement, "Alberta is facing some of the most acute labour shortages in the country.... The expansion of this pilot project will enable more employers in Alberta to hire foreign workers on a temporary basis to fill short-term skills and labour needs when Canadians or permanent residents are unavailable."
"Our consultations with Alberta employers and our own labour forecasts show there is a need to expand the pilot to include these high-demand occupations," said Minister Khan. "We appreciate the cooperation and support of our federal colleagues in working with us to help employers get the workers they need sooner."
This latest scheme is part of the assault on the livelihood and future of workers being carried out by both the Harper government and in this case with great enthusiasm by the Redford government. The Harper dictatorship is announcing piece by piece its agenda to lower Canadian standard wages and working conditions while the owners of capital claim a larger and larger share of the wealth the workers produce. Employers can now hire temporary foreign workers at wages 15 per cent below the industry rate, so long as it can be demonstrated that Canadian workers are receiving the same wages. Unemployed workers will be forced to work for up to 30 per cent less than in their last job or lose their employment insurance (EI) benefits. And now employers do not even have to go through the motions of advertising a job in Canada before hiring temporary foreign workers for an expanding list of occupations.
Jason Kenney said he had no concerns about eliminating the requirement for an LMO. "This collapses what used to be a six-month, complicated bureaucratic process into a one-step process where they can get a work permit in 30 minutes at the airport... This will make it massively faster for employers to proactively recruit skilled tradespeople -- for example from the United States."
It is common knowledge that in the past the requirement for an LMO was treated as a formality requiring only a token effort at advertising. Even this process which held these corporations in check to a certain extent has now been eliminated and instead of taking responsibility to enforce their own regulations, the Harper government has given the monopolies complete control. Kenney stated that this change to the pilot project could bring hundreds or even thousands of new workers to the province.
Kenney said the U.S. has been unwilling to expand a North American Free Trade Agreement visa program. The move to allow tradespeople into Alberta more easily through the TFW program, Kenney said, is "a bit of a work around."
The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) condemned the announcement. Gil McGowan, AFL President stated: "This will help make foreign workers the first choice, not the last resort... This is not about a labour shortage. It's a low-wage strategy. This is mostly designed to give companies access to a big pool of construction labour in the U.S. that is desperate for jobs." The AFL calls for the abolition of the Temporary Foreign Workers' Program as an unacceptable form of indentured labour that deprives workers of their rights.
This fraudulent claim by the Harper and Redford governments that "the labour shortage made me do it" will not wash. It is trotted out every time the governments act at the behest of the monopolies. In 2006 and 2008 "labour shortages" were given as the reason to fast track the process of applying for an LMO in advance of hiring temporary foreign workers for a large number of occupations in BC and Alberta. Now even these minimal requirements have been eliminated for a number of jobs in the building trades.
The AFL also points out that the claim of a "labour shortage" flies in the face of reality. According to Statistics Canada data, there are 5.6 unemployed Canadians for every unfilled job. There were also 15,600 unemployed tradespeople in Alberta alone as of May 2012. In 2009 the Alberta government changed the formula to make projections for future need for workers in different sectors of the economy. Using an obscure method and complicated calculations, it reaches the convenient conclusion that there will be a shortage of 114,000 workers by 2021.
This announcement shows the utter disregard of these governments, at the beck and call of the monopolies, for nation-building and the well-being of the workers who create the wealth. While slavishly repeating that the monopolies require this labour to dig up the oilsands as fast as possible and ship the bitumen out, there is not one word about what will benefit the workers who build these massive projects or contribute to nation-building. Virtually everyone but the monopolies and the governments which serve them are opposed to the schemes to expand oilsands production and shipping of raw bitumen at breakneck speed. The Workers' Opposition is demanding that there should be broad benefit to Canadians when our resources are exploited.
Not only must the oil workers who produce the wealth and the building trades workers who construct these massive projects be provided with living and working conditions that respect their rights and dignity, but the natural environment and the hereditary rights of the First Nations must be given priority.
This newest assault shows the necessity for organized resistance not only to these changes but to the entire agenda aimed at providing the monopolies, in particular in resource extraction, whether in Alberta, BC, Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan or anywhere else, with a source of cheap labour.
During the Courtenay rally and picnic held to mark the Public Service Alliance of Canada's (PSAC) National Day of Action on September 15, TML interviewed three workers directly impacted by the Harper government's attacks on public services and the workers who provide them.
TML: What is your job and why did you organize the rally today?
Tom Hopkins: I am an enhancement technician at the federal wild salmon hatchery -- the Conuma River Hatchery -- in Tahsis. I deeply believe in getting involved when I see my brothers and sisters receiving affected letters. [Under the Workforce Adjustment provisions of the federal government, an employee who receives a letter stating that his or her "services may no longer be required because of a workforce adjustment situation" is an "affected" employee -- TML Ed. Note] I don't like to see anyone lose their job. But more than that this rally is about protecting services for Canadians all across the country. The government has its priorities all wrong and finds it politically expedient to dump on civil servants and say that we are "overpaid and underworked." What they are doing is making services disappear and waging a war of attrition on the workers. The public does not realize these services are gone until they need them and find they are not there. There are issues of public safety like the cuts to the Coast Guard and the Canada Food Inspection Agency which has been gutted. Rules and regulations around food inspection are not enforced because they are lacking people to do the job. Fifteen hundred workplace safety inspectors have received affected letters which shows there is a total lack of commitment to workplace health and safety. They are already understaffed and have been told basically not to go out and do their jobs inspecting federal workplaces. The people whose job it is to audit commercial airliners have been cut back 10 per cent and they were already short people because they are underpaid.
It's because these services protect all Canadians that we say, "WE ARE ALL AFFECTED," not just the workers who get the letters.
TML: How have the recent actions of the Harper government affected you?
Michael Ballard: Bill C-38 [the omnibus budget bill] brought changes particularly regarding Sections 32 and 35 of the Fisheries Act that really impact how I do my work in aquaculture, including regulation and compliance. The old legislation provided a real framework for protection of fisheries habitat and fish values as an important part of our ecosystem and the natural world. Now the legislation focuses protection on areas of economic, social or cultural significance, rather than ecological value for all the inhabitants of BC and not just the two-legged ones.
Enforcement is now facing a reduction in the number of staff and there will be a consolidation of offices. It is not official yet but we have been told that five offices will close. This will result in a drastically reduced presence in those areas that have a strong fisheries component to their economic base. Madeira Park in Sechelt will lose services and Comox will lose services. Enforcement for those areas will have to come from Nanaimo or Campbell River. This will result in a different type of enforcement and a lot less presence in the communities. It won't work. There are some bad players that take fish out of the wild fishery and put them into their leases. When we are around there is much less likelihood of that happening. If you withdraw enforcement from an area, it has an impact on fish values for decades and sometimes they can only recover through lots of intervention, expensive resources and the work of the community members.
TML: Why did you come to the rally today?
MB: I am on the union executive as a Health and Safety Officer and also part of the National Aboriginal Peoples' Circle. What is most difficult for me to accept are the changes to the Fisheries Act. Salmon is a cultural centre point. The protection of salmon is essential to our culture and how our ecosystem functions.
TML: What job do Communications Officers do?
Allan Hughes: Our job is to monitor VHF radios for distress calls and to facilitate Search and Rescue communications so when there is a call for assistance we answer. We are on the front line. Before Search and Rescue goes out, we answer the call, whether it's from a phone, a radio or an emergency beacon. Whether that triggers a Search and Rescue, a Department of National Defence or a Coast Guard rescue, we coordinate it and provide all the communications support. We also provide weather information which is updated every 30 minutes. We are also the central dissemination point for tsunami alerts for marine interests. The centre in Comox is at the highest elevation outside the tsunami hazard zone. If there were a tsunami all the other stations would have to be evacuated.
We regulate all shipping movements from the Washington state border to the Alaska border for any craft over 20 metres -- the marine equivalent of air traffic control -- so that in critical waterways like Seymour Narrows, First and Second Narrows and Active Pass vessels know about each other before they meet and through radar and transponders they can navigate safely. In the case of the Queen of the North [the BC Ferries vessel that hit Gil Island in Wright Sound on March 22, 2006 with the loss of two lives -- TML Ed. Note] we did not have the technology then that we have now. Now we can monitor in real time. The sinking of the Queen of the North would not have happened with this technology. With the increase in tanker traffic the new technologies and monitoring capacity have to be in place for the government to ensure that the marine environment is safe. There is nowhere that that is more important than Vancouver harbour. There are 400 tankers a year there, exporting crude and other products. We make sure they are not in conflict with other vessels. The Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Centre located on the 22nd and 23rd floors in the Harbour Centre on Hastings, from which the staff can see the harbour and communicate with vessels that have blind spots, is being closed. They are moving it to Victoria to a building with no windows.
Protest against the planned closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard Base in Vancouver, September 15, 2012.
TML: What will they be able to do there?
AH: When there's a tsunami, evacuate.
TML: How is this justified?
AH: They say they are going to "leverage technology" but our experience over the last 15 years is that every new piece of "technology" in our programme has been a step backwards.
TML: What services are being cut in BC?
AH: There are five stations or centres in BC. The stations in Comox, Ucluelet and Vancouver will close, leaving the Victoria Institute of Ocean Sciences in Pat Bay, Sidney and the centre in Prince Rupert, both of which are below the tsunami flood plain. The Comox centre is the one which can hear both sides of Vancouver Island, all the way up to Prince Rupert, and as far south as Active Pass and Vancouver. It is in the middle of all the stations. It is at the highest elevation and would not have to be evacuated but could continue to operate if there were a tsunami warning. It makes no sense to close it.
TML: What are the consequences of cuts to your work?
AH: We protect everyone on the water, from kayakers to tankers. The government has already cut so much from preventive maintenance that we no longer have technicians standing by so if something goes down it can take days to re-establish communication. It's like having an Emergency Room without a doctor on duty or on standby. We are the front line for safety for mariners. About five per cent of the Coast Guard budget is discretionary. Last year that five per cent was reduced by a very small wage increase that we got. So a 10 per cent budget cut to the Coast Guard means a cut of 10 per cent of services.
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