Striking workers at a new automotive parts distribution centre in Hamilton say they’re optimistic about returning to the bargaining table Tuesday, three weeks after they walked off the job.

About 30 materials handlers at the Navistar shipping warehouse in Hannon started picketing Sept. 29 after talks between their union representatives from Unifor Local 504 and management broke down. 

'If you’re working shoulder-to-shoulder with somebody doing the exact same job, you should be paid the exact same rate.' —Scott Keith, materials handler, Navistar

The employees are protesting the corporation’s proposal to create a three-tiered wage system that would see new hires slotted into on a lower pay scale than existing employees doing the same job. 

“That’s an absolute non-starter for us,” said Scott Keith, a materials handler at the facility. “That pits worker against worker…. If you’re working shoulder-to-shoulder with somebody doing the exact same job, you should be paid the exact same rate.”

Materials handlers at the site are already paid based upon a two-tiered pay system that has been in place for about a decade. Under their most recent contract, the most senior employees earned about $25 per hour, while workers in the second tier earn a maximum of roughly $2 less, said Keith, who's worked for Navistar for 17 years. 

Both sides 'optimistic'

The corporation’s proposal, Keith said, would create a third pay scale under which new workers' pay would max out at 76 per cent of the compensation rate for workers in the second tier. The strikers want to move to a single pay scale based upon the current top tier.

The Navistar facility opened earlier this year after moving from Burlington to the Red Hill Business Park South, just south of the Red Hill Parkway, on Glover Road.

Navistar and Unifor 504 representatives are set to resume contract talks on Tuesday, both sides have confirmed.

“It’s always good when you get both sides at the table,” said Keith. “Work stoppage doesn’t do anything good for anybody. It’s not good for the company, it’s not good for the workers. 

"The sooner we get to the bargaining table, the better."

Facing declining net revenues in 2013, Illinois-based Navistar, which specializes in the manufacturing of trucks and automotive engines, has undergone restructuring. In the second half of last year, it announced that it was laying off hundreds of workers from plants across the U.S. 

“We remain optimistic in reaching an agreement that makes competitive improvements that will help Navistar succeed in the long term and that allows employees to maintain a good quality of life,” said Steve Schier, a spokesman for Navistar International, of the upcoming talks. 

However, he wouldn't address Navistar's position on the workers' demands. 

"We’re not going to comment on the details of the negotiation process."