A group of Hamilton steelworkers started picketing in front of the Max Aicher North America plant Wednesday, though they're doing so begrudgingly, a union rep says.
Max Aicher North America (MANA) locked out its workers at midnight on Saturday, but Tim Blackborow, chair of the United Steelworkers Local 1005's MANA unit says workers would much rather be inside doing their jobs.
"We all want to be in there working. We don't want to turn around and be out here," he told CBC Hamilton Wednesday morning.
The picketing is the latest in a complex saga between MANA and roughly 118 steelworkers. The company purchased idled bar and bloom mills from U.S. Steel in November 2010 with much fanfare and the promise of new jobs for the city's struggling steel industry.
Some of the workers were included as part of that agreement, Blackborow says. About 50 retired members of Local 1005 also came back to work then. At its peak, there were 118 in the bargaining unit.
The company began layoffs in June 2011 that have continued today, Blackborow said. "Some of our members have spent more time laid off than they have working."
About 40 were laid off in November 2012, and another 10 or so in December, Blackborow said. Twenty-two have retired. Others have seen their employment insurance expire and have found "survival jobs" wherever they could.
"We can't be held responsible for three management changes and the mismanagement of this business because realistically, if we don't produce a product, this business is never going to turn around," Blackborow said. "The last time we actually rolled any product was September of 2011."
Union members voted last Tuesday against the latest offer from the company, which included an hourly wage decrease ranging from $7 to $11, he said. It also lacked a defined pension plan in favour of a defined contribution plan, cuts to benefits, the elimination of a cost-of-living increase and a reduction in severance payments and vacations, he said.
"It's major concession when you're expected to turn around and live on seven to eleven dollars less an hour and you also have to turn around and pay more for your healthcare benefits and deal with reduced work weeks," Blackborow said.
"We have tried to turn it around and go out and do bargaining and negotiations with this company. We've never gone out and asked for a strike mandate and we've never withdrawn out labour."
MANA has rejected the union's counter offer. Company officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday morning.