Steelworkers union targets beer can maker in ongoing labour dispute

Looking to pick up a few cold brewskies this week in the GTA? If so, buy it in bottles, not cans, the United Steelworkers union is urging consumers.

125 workers at a Toronto beer can plant have been locked out since September 2013

About 120 Toronto beer can factory workers have been on strike since September 2013. (Don Pablo/Shutterstock)

Looking to purchase a few cold brewskies this week in the GTA? If so, buy it in bottles, not cans, the United Steelworkers union is urging consumers.

In a new set of radio ads airing on stations throughout southern Ontario beginning Tuesday, the union is asking consumers to avoid buying beer in cans in a show of solidarity with striking workers at a Toronto beer can manufacturing plant.

About 125 workers at Crown Holdings' Toronto location have been on strike since September 2013, when they walked off the job due primarily to disagreements over a two-tier wage system the company wanted to introduce, according to the USW and workers at the plant.

Under the proposed system, new workers would make considerably less than those already working at the factory. 

"The company refused to bargain fairly. Every time an adjustment was made at the bargaining table, it was the union getting closer to the company's offer. Once we did that, the company would move farther and farther away from us," said Ken Hetherton, USW Local 9176 president.

"We weren't asking for much, but we certainly didn't want to lose what we already have."

The plant produces about 5.5 million aluminum beer cans every day for companies like Molson Coors and Labatt. The cans are used mainly in the U.S. and in the Maritimes. 

'It's put a lot of stress on families'

Rob DiPippo has worked at the plant for more than three decades. He says the new ad campaign was necessary because the situation for many workers is becoming dire and at this point, "any little bit helps."

"It's put a lot of stress on families. People are finding out that they might not be able to keep their houses. Marriages are falling apart ... They've taken our dignity and tried to run us into the ground," DiPippo told CBC News. 

Crown Holdings, a U.S.-based international conglomerate, has been using workers bused in each day to operate the plant, the USW said. Some workers previously part of the strike have had to cross the picket line  "because they need a pay cheque to feed their families" DiPippo said. 

"I never thought after 38 years I would be looking at having to go to the food bank." 

The radio ads are accompanied by a Youtube video.

The USW has filed an unfair labour practice complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board and made multiple appeals to the Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn, but the strike remains far from resolved. 

CBC News made repeated requests to Crown Holdings for comment, but did not hear back by time of publication. 


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