Solidarity in Guelph: Workers hold the line at NGF Canada strike

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Photo:  Susan Taylor

For a second day in a row, striking workers and their supporters at the NGF Canada plant in Guelph have succeeded in blocking replacement workers from crossing the picket line.

The 28 members of Workers United Local 2641 have been out on strike since September 30 after failing to reach an agreement with their employer, Japanese-owned NGF Canada.

Earlier this week, the strikers looked on as security guards escorted management and scabs into the plant for three days in a row.

After tolerating taunts from some of the replacement workers and seeing the number of replacement workers increase, the strikers decided that “enough was enough,” Local president Susan Taylor explains.

On Thursday morning, when a van carrying 10 replacement workers arrived at the plant on York Road, the strikers and their allies from other local unions would not let them pass. Though the police were called, the strikers held their ground and the van eventually left. Taylor was then given word via the company’s security guards that the scabs would not be returning that day.

This morning, Taylor said she believes that the company will make two attempts to get their replacements in for the day before sending them away. Having blocked the van at 7 am, the strikers are waiting for the van to return, so that they can block it again. 

There are about two dozen people on the picket line right now, with more on the way says Taylor. "We've got a really strong show of support from the labour community," says Taylor, "and we are eternally grateful for their show of solidarity."

Two weeks into the strike, the company wants to negotiate a strike protocol that would restrict the strikers from blocking vehicles for more than 5 minutes at a time. But Taylor says that the union refuses to sign anything that would take away their ability to keep replacement workers out of the plant. 

Since the Harris government scrapped anti-scab legislation in Ontario, the onus has been on striking workers to hold the line to prevent scabbing. Taylor says that the union and their supporters will be back tomorrow to do just that. She also suggested that having replacement workers could pose safety risks at the plant.

“This isn’t a job you can walk in and do tomorrow,” says Taylor, “There’s a lot of handling chemical latex that’s got some pretty nasty stuff in it. There’s a certain skill set and its going to cost in the long run.”

Local 2641 members have voted unanimously to turn down management’s offer on three separate occasions.

“This is the first time in the history of this local where we have been pushed to the point where we went on strike,” says Taylor. “I’ve always enjoyed a very friendly relationship with management. Things weren’t acrimonious. But this round of negotiations threw me for a loop. They weren’t budging.”

During the 5-year term covered by the previous contract, NGF Canada went through a series of management changes which, Taylor suggests, may be responsible for company’s hard-nosed position in this round of bargaining.

The firm’s proposed contract, which demands concessions on vacation time and pensions, among other things, would grandfather-in more generous benefits for senior workers, while leaving young workers worse off. Also at issue are the contract length and yearly incremental wage increases.

Though Taylor maintains that the union is firm in its position, she also says that they are eager to get back to the bargaining table.

"We’re just average people - we'va got mortgages to pay, we’ve got kids to feed. We want to go back into work but we don’t want to go back into negotiations and have the company keep playing the games that they’ve been playing. All we are asking for is a fair contract.”

NGF Canada manufactures rubber impregnated glass cords and was previously owned by fiberglass manufacturer Owens Corning, which also has a plant on Guelph’s York Road where workers are represented by Workers United, an affiliate of SEIU.

NGF would not provide a comment on whether they would bring in replacement workers in upcoming days.

Ella Bedard is's labour intern. She has written about labour issues for 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. She now lives in Toronto where she enjoys chasing the labour beat, biking and birding.

Photo: Susan Taylor

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