This holiday season, members of USW local 9176 are asking beer drinkers to bring home a cold case of solidarity in bottles, not aluminum cans.
The workers at a Crown Holdings canning plant in the north Toronto neighbourhood of Weston went on strike on September 6, 2013 after negotiations reached a stand-still. Those 124 Toronto factory workers have been on the strike for almost 16 months.
With support from the Ontario Federation of Labour, a province-wide day of action, and new youtube and radio ads, the union is amping up publicity just in time for the holidays. As part of the Take Backs No More campaign the USW hopes to remind listeners that while family and friends come together to raise their glasses in cheers, Crown Holdings workers are being served a frosty glass of concessions and little else.
“These workers are hurting, their families are hurting and all they want is to get back to work,” said United Steel Workers (USW) Ontario Director Marty Warren in a press release.
“Some of these families are about to lose their homes, others tell us their kids have had to quit college or university. We can all help these families simply by choosing to buy bottled beer instead of cans,” Warren said.
Union members voted almost unanimously to reject a two-tiered collective agreement, after Crown Holdings tried to enforce a 42 per cent wage cut for new hires, among other draconian measures, including replacing the defined benefit pension plan with a higher risk defined contribution model.
The USW says that the U.S.-based multinational has since refused to negotiate a fair settlement and has indicated its desire to get rid of most of its Toronto unionized employees even if the dispute is resolved. Only 26 of the workers on strike would be allowed to return to work while the rest of the 124 positions would be filled by the replacement workers that Crown is currently using.
The USW has filed an unfair labour practice complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board, asserting Crown has avoided reaching a collective agreement by repeatedly changing its positions and tabling unjustified proposals designed for rejection by union members.
Despite a continuous picket line, Crown has been operating its Toronto factory with replacement workers since the beginning of the strike, continuing to make cans for major beer brands, like Molson, Coors, Labatt, Budweiser and Moosehead.
The USW has informed these Crown customers that strike-breakers are being used to make cans for their products, but to the union’s knowledge none of these major brands have ceased purchasing Crown cans.
As a global company, Crown Holdings has been lowering the bar for labour in it’s locations around the world, and the labour movement has been responding in kind. In Germany, Turkey and the U.S., Crown has experienced labour tension and fight backs.
On November 27, the can boycott expanded to Quebec, after Crown Holdings announced that it would be closing its last manufacturing plant in Montreal and eliminating 16 jobs.
According to the USW, Crown used to several hundred workers in the region. But Crown’s decision to close its Montreal operation means cans will no longer be manufactured by unionized workers anywhere in Canada.
Ella Bedard is rabble’s labour intern. She has written about labour issues for Dominion.ca and the Halifax Media Co-op and is the co-producer of the radio documentary The Amelie: Canadian Refugee Policy and the Story of the 1987 Boat People.