Max Aicher workers still standing in the cold 5 years after being locked out

The temperature hovered around zero that evening. It was low enough that people breathed into their cupped hands and shuffled their feet to keep warm. But for Tom Newton and Dave Lowe, it was just another day holding signs.

Most of the workers have other jobs now, but still picket for 8 hours a week, refusing to go away

Tom Newton and Dave Lowe, Max Aicher employees, say they've spent more time locked out than they have working since the company bought idled bar and bloom mills in Hamilton's east end. They showed up in Ancaster last week to picket Premier Kathleen Wynne's town hall. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The temperature hovered around zero that evening. It was low enough that people breathed into their cupped hands and shuffled their feet to keep warm.

I didn't plan on working this hard this late in life.- Dave Lowe, locked out Max Aicher  employee

But for Tom Newton and Dave Lowe, it was just another day holding signs.

The two steelworkers are locked out of the Max Aicher North American (MANA) plant at 855 Industrial Dr., and have been for five years.

Since 2013, they've gone down there in rain and snow to put in at least eight hours a week — the amount required to get their strike pay. So when Premier Kathleen Wynne visited the Ancaster Fairgrounds for a town hall March 6, they didn't mind doing it again.

Max Aicher North American picketers started picketing in 2013, and have been doing it ever since. (Adam Carter/CBC)

They want the Wynne Liberals to pass anti-replacement worker legislation. They want the province to hold the German company accountable after giving them $9 million in 2010.

You march. You've got four gates to cover, and you go out and cover them.- Tim Blackborow, MANA chair, USW Local 1005

But most of all, they just want Wynne to know that they're still here. Still locked out. Still doing this.

"We've been walking a picket line for five years," said Dave Lowe, 62. "This has become almost the norm."

Despite all the picketing, and at least two rock concerts, the Max Aicher impasse drags on with no resolution in sight.

The issue dates back to November 2010, when MANA bought idled bar and bloom mills from U.S. Steel with promises of expansion, investment and jobs. At the time, Lowe said, the workers were hopeful. About 50 retired members of United Steelworkers Local 1005 came back to work. The bargaining unit had 118 members.

United Steelworkers Local 1005 held signs about the Companies Creditors Arrangement Act, which impacted U.S. Steel and its pensioners. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

But for Lowe and others, things quickly went awry. In 2011, the company started laying off workers, and that continued for the next two years.

We can't just hand out money anymore with no strings attached.- Paul Miller, MPP

In July 2013, the workers were locked out and hit the picket line. A year later, MANA got a court injunction saying picketers could only halt replacement workers for 15 minutes.

They've been doing that ever since.

The workers erected a shed down there for winter, said Tim Blackborow, chair of the USW Local 1005's MANA unit. There's a wood stove in it, but it hasn't been used in more than a year. There are only 18 members left to picket, he said. Most have retired or moved on to other jobs. So there's no extra person to stoke the fire.

Blackborow often pickets in the early morning darkness before he heads to his other job. He dresses in layers. Occasionally, a MANA security guard will pop his head out to make sure Blackborow doesn't stall anyone for longer than 15 minutes.

"I believe we’re going to get through this," Premier Kathleen Wynne told the crowd about potential NAFTA negotiations between Canada and the U.S. She wasn't asked specifically about the MANA situation, and didn't take questions from the media. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

"You march," Blackborow said. "You've got four gates to cover, and you go out and cover them."

Gary Howe, president of Local 1005, said USW and MANA haven't even met since 2014.

"We'd like to see some action here to get our workers back."

Wynne didn't take media questions in Ancaster, and no one asked about Max Aicher. CBC News has reached out to the Liberal, NDP and PC governments, as well as MANA.

Paul Miller, NDP MPP for Hamilton East-Stoney Creek, said Monday that Ontario needs to bring back anti-replacement worker legislation scrapped under the Mike Harris government. It also needs to be firmer conditions on companies that get government money.

Canadian punk legends D.O.A. played a set on the picket line in front of Max Aicher North America in Hamilton Thursday. 2:39

"There should be a stipulation that you will maintain the workforce you have," Miller said. "Even if the market goes bad, if you have to lay off people, it's temporary, or you'll have to pay us back. We can't just hand out money anymore with no strings attached."

Newton, 58, said since 2010, he's spent about a year and a half actually working at MANA. "The rest of the time, I've been laid off and locked out."

Newton is an electrician, and gets work elsewhere. He doesn't have benefits though, and "at our age," those are key.

Lowe is working in construction. The pay is about the same, but the work is grueling.

"I didn't plan on working this hard this late in life," he said. "But such as it is."

About the Author

Samantha Craggs

Reporter

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.