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Crown workers reject rotten deal

By: 
Michelle Robidoux

March 27, 2014

After seven months on strike, workers at Crown Holdings in Toronto–members of United Steelworkers Local 9176–have delivered a resounding “No” to the company’s latest offer.
 
In an inspiring display of solidarity, workers voted 117 to 1 against the company’s latest offer, which contained huge concessions. Crown was banking on workers being starved into submission, forcing a vote after the union's bargaining committee refused to recommend the deal. Their strategy backfired.
 
Crown workers withstood not only the harshest winter in almost 20 years, but also management’s union-busting tactics. The company brought in scabs from its Alberta operations, but production has been plagued with problems including burst pipes, damaged products and workplace injuries.
 
The Toronto facility produces 5 million cans per day for customers like Cott's, Labatt's and Molson's. With demand for Crown's products set to increase with the summer season, the strikers are intensifying their campaign. Aside from daily pickets at the plant gates of beer and pop producers, the union has written to these customers about the problems with scab cans and also with those being shipped up from the U.S. Many cans are damaged in transit, and cannot be used on the production lines.
 
“We believe that using replacement workers is causing problems with quality control, shipment returns and failed efforts to operate the plant,” said United Steelworkers representative Lawrence Hay.
 
Workers at Crown have courageously stared down the company's attacks and have held the line for all workers fighting concessions. They have shown they are willing to fight. Now we need to ramp up solidarity from the broader labour movement to make sure they have the support they need to win.
 
CEO compensation = $12 million
Last year, the Toronto plant won an award from Crown for best plant in North America, for “dedication, commitment, teamwork and personal accountability,” and for meeting and exceeding the company's expectations for “safety, productivity, quality and budget management.”
 
But the company turned around and demanded a series of concessions from the same workers, including a two-tier wage structure (with wages for new hires cut almost in half), elimination of the cost-of-living allowance (COLA) and no improvement in pensions despite a 9-year freeze. On September 6, workers walked out.
 
Crown is one of the world's largest manufacturers of food and beverage containers, with 149 plants in 41 countries. They doubled their profits in 2012, and are trying to boost them even further by attacking wages, benefits and working conditions.
 
Apparently, not everyone is expected to tighten their belt. Crown CEO John Conway took home $12 million in 2012, including $2.8 million for reaching "economic targets" (i.e. profits) for the company.
 
Conway is also a lead director of the Pennsylvania Power and Light Corporation (PPL). The 3500 workers at PPL, whose collective agreement expires May 11 are also currently in bargaining. PPL is pressing for concessions from IBEW local 1600. If Conway can get away with concessions at Crown it will embolden employers everywhere to do the same.
 
A sinking ship?
Another Crown director, Arnold Donald, is CEO of Carnival Corporation, the world's largest cruise line.
 
Every year, millions of people, including workers and their families in every part of the world, board the company's Carnival, Holland America, Princess, Cunard, Costa, P&O, Seabourn and Aida cruises. Yet as the union has pointed out, “Carnival relies on good wages and paid leave contained in union contracts throughout North America and Europe to fill their cruise ships, and Donald's support of Crown Holdings undermines the very foundation of their business plan.”
 
In response to a call by USW, the 500,000-member Congress of Union Retirees of Canada (CURC), along with the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, has endorsed a boycott of Carnival Cruises to protest Arnold Donald's role in the strike.
 
Strikers have also leafleted Carnival cruise patrons disembarking at ports in the U.S.
 
International solidarity
In February, unions from Canada, France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey and UK met to confront Crown's anti-union tactics. The meeting was convened by IndustriALL, whose affiliates represent 50 million workers and was joined by unions representing graphical and packaging sector workers, and workers at the major food and beverage companies that are major customers of Crown Holdings.
 
The unions discussed Crown's attacks on workers in Canada and in Turkey. The Birleşik Metal-İş union is fighting for union recognition and to improve working conditions at two Crown plants in Izmit and Osmaniye. But Crown management has stalled the process of recognition, even though the Ministry of Labour has recognized the union.
 
Four workers who spent over a year on a union organizing drive at Crown Bevcan were recently fired.
 
This international campaign to fight Crown's international union busting is vital. Crown operates on a global scale, and the response must also be global. As USW Canadian director Ken Neumann said, “Freedom of association is a fundamental human right that is accorded legal status by the International Labour Organization. We don’t differentiate between labour and human rights, because they are inextricably linked, and we stand in solidarity with the workers in Turkey.”
 
Solidarity can win
The members of USW 9176 have sent a powerful message to Crown, and there was jubilation at the 117 to 1 vote. “After seven months on the picket line, this company thought they had starved us out,” said USW Local 9176 President Ken Hetherton.“They thought they could impose a contract that would give away many of our jobs and destroy our union that we have fought so hard to maintain.”
 
These workers, many of whom have worked here 25 years or more, have stayed united despite the hardships of the past seven months—stopping scabs and supply trucks each day in freezing weather, picketing Crown HQ in Philadelphia, organizing solidarity roadtrips to other Crown plants in the U.S., and building links with Crown workers in Turkey and elsewhere.
 
The labour movement must pull out all stops to make sure the strike has the support it needs. The Toronto plant is #1 for productivity, and it is profitable. Crown can't reliably operate it using scabs if it wants to supply its customers, and shipping cans in from the U.S. is not a long-term option given the sorry state the cans arrive in.
 
Crown and its board of directors need to know that attacking workers–in Toronto or in Turkey–will be more costly to them than bargaining a fair contract.
 
• Join the picket line at 21 Fenmar (one north of Finch, east of Signet)
Send a message to Carnival CEO Arnold Donald
 
This is a corrected article. An earlier version incorrectly identified John Conway as business development officer of CTCA.

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