Locked-out workers at a London, Ont., locomotive plant will not accept the wage and benefit cuts proposed by their employer and will picket outside the plant "for as long as it takes," the local union president says.

The Canadian Autoworkers Union said negotiations broke down when Electro-Motive asked for a 50 per cent wage cut for many employees, as well as major changes to the pension plan and other benefits. The union rejected the offer, prompting the company to lock out the workers on Jan. 1.

"Every aspect of our collective agreement was attacked," said Tim Carrie, CAW Local 27 president.

The CAW said that the average hourly wage was around $34 an hour. The company was seeking changes that would see many employees wages reduced to $16.50 an hour, the union said.

'Environment of uncertainty'

Electro-Motive Canada said in a statement Tuesday that the union had sent mixed signals about its intention to strike, something Carrie denied.

The company also said the union's "changing positions have created an environment of uncertainty that is not in the best interests of the company’s employees, customers, suppliers and owners."

"Therefore, EMC is seeking the assurance of a prompt ratification of the company's last offer and has instituted a lock out at the London facility until a ratified contract is in place," the statement said.

Carrie said the employees will not accept the offer.

"Our position is that's not going to happen today, that's not going to happen six months from now, that's not going to happen," he said.

Carrie said Tuesday that locked out workers have set up their picket and will take six-hour shifts at the plant gate: "Obviously, we need to be prepared in the event they try to bring in replacement workers or bring out equipment."

However, Carrie noted, the company has said it doesn't intend to bring in replacement workers and will instead rely on management and non-collective bargaining employees.

Unions, groups visit pickets

Carrie noted that many people from other unions and community groups were dropping by the plant Tuesday to show their support for the more than 400 locked-out workers.

"We all see this as a key dispute that's going to in many ways dictate what happens to average Canadian workers across this country in the future," said Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, who travelled to London to back the pickets.

"It's a very important dispute for us, many issues are at play," Ryan said.

Ryan said the OFL was offering support, but he said there was no "full strategy" because the union and the OFL were not yet sure how the company would proceed in the days ahead.

The union is ready to resume negotiations at any time, Carrie said, but there has been no indication the company is interested.

"I'm trying to remain optimistic that through enough pressure from us and the community and the government, that would force them back to the table," he said.

Electro-Motive is owned by U.S.-based heavy-equipment giant Caterpillar Inc., through its Progress Rail subsidiary.

The company declined a request for an interview, and directed media to a website.

 

With files from The Canadian Press