On June 27, shortly before a midnight strike deadline, Coca Cola Canada locked out over 700 at their Brampton plant. The workers, members of Canadian Auto Workers, Local 973, had not even begun to negotiate economic issues, such as wages, shift premiums, etc.
Coke had put in front of the Local's bargaining committee a long series of concessions, including:
- The elimination of pensions for new hires; the end of a defined benefit plan for those already working, to be replaced by a defined contribution plan.
- Contracting out of skilled jobs, including a whole department.
- Refusing to allow temporary workers to access full time work.
- Eliminating the right of layed off workers to transfer to other facilities in the region.
- Dismantling of traditional seniority rights, affecting promotion, transfer, recall from layoff.
- Reduction of benefits, and forcing of workers into a co-pay arrangement.
... and the list goes on.
All this from a company that made over $9 billion in profits last year, and paid its CEO $30.5 million.
Coca Cola is following a trend throughout both private and public sectors to demand concessions from their workers, and when they (the union) balk at the bargaining table, lock them out. Some of Coke's demands will sound familiar, especially when it comes to different (reduced) conditions for new hires, and the transfer from a stable, predictable defined benefit plan to one driven by the market, ie. defined contributions. Most of us will be quite familiar with demands to contract out work, especially from the unionized public sector to low wage, non-union private firms. The money saved by employers do not benefit the public, let alone improve efficiency, as study after study has noted - it is simply a way to boost corporate profit.
Another attack by Coke on its workers that will sound familiar to many trade unionists is its attempt to enforce "precarious" work, by refusing to allow mobililty from temp to full-time. Precarious, insecure employment is everywhere in the economy: we see it from workers forced to sign employment contracts year after year, to workers who are hired as part time workers, who see their hours jump to full time, only to find them reduced to below an acceptable amount needed to earn a living wage.
That makes it crucial that we support the members of CAW Local 973, who are holding strong on the picket line. The workers, many with high levels of seniority, have known plans were afoot by Coke since April to lock them out. On June 27, hours before the strike deadline, workers were told to gather their belongings and leave the plant, clearly indicating that Coke did not want to negotiate with its workers. When the workers left the plant, they found that Coke had already erected a ring of fences around it!
Though this is their first strike, the members of Local 973 are fighting back. They have maintained around the clock pickets at all three plant entrances. Unfortunately a company injunction has allowed scabs to be bused in from a gathering point at the Holiday Inn at the Bramalea City Centre. However the workers are holding up the scabs as long as legally possible. They have also received solidarity visits from members of other CAW locals, and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Local 966. But more solidarity is needed, especially from unions outside of the CAW - this can raise the possibility of real resistance to the scab buses, and in this way inflict a real, and deserved defeat on the Coca Cola corporation, setting a positive pattern for other Coke plants, and indeed all of Labour.
After all, the mighty Coca Cola Ltd. owes every bit of their profits to the work of their workers the world over, like members of CAW Local 973. As Shop Steward Irvin Active put it: "This company isn't interested in its employees. A company of this magnitude should be, as we provide the worldwide product".
Let's show Coke that our solidarity is "the real thing."
Join CAW members on the picket line at 15 Westcreek Blvd. in Brampton, near Hwy. 410 and Steeles Ave., or visit http://caw973.ca/ for updates or to deliver messages of solidarity.