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More thoughts on Electro-Motive vs Fat Cat

January 30, 2012

A few more things have happened in the last few days to make me think a little harder about the optics of the EMD vs Caterpillar situation.  The mayor and other local politicians did participate in the London Day of Action,  a rally held 21 January 2012, where union members from across the country and the United States arrived to show their support.  EMD, LaGrange and other locomotive manufacturers  (GE) also participated and let their comrades know they supported their cause.

I’m proud of the union gents and ladies that have stood by their comrades’ sides in Ingersoll and blockaded the last EMD-manufactured locomotive. In fact, the owner of the location the locomotive was headed for supports their cause. The paint job that locomotive is waiting for is work that EMD employees should be performing.

I’m proud of my friends on the line that are standing up for their rights as people, workers and family members.  The support they’re receiving from the community and across the country is heart-warming. Seeing local retailer TSC, drop a product brand from its shelves in support of jobs in their community and others post signs in their windows  supporting their local workforce helps remind me what the word community means. We, the community, should patronize such stores and encourage their return support.

Local NDP MP, Irene Mathyssen, stood up in the House of Commons today to raise EMD workers’ concerns to Parliament.  She asked the Industry Minister to act on behalf of Canadian workers who have seen federal dollars given to a corporation that has made a single offer that cuts wages by approximately 55% as well as large cuts to benefits and pensions, while threatening to close up shop and move their jobs to the US. The Conservative response has not changed – this dispute is between a private company and a union and not a federal concern.  When does this become a federal concern? When all manufacturing jobs that are provided by foreign-owned companies are lost?

Over the past month of the lock-out, there have been many comments stating that its the fault of the unions and that the workers are not only greedy, but apparently mindlessly listen to the whims of their union representation.  This is far from the truth.  I have not been a union supporter in the past, nor would I say I am entirely in favour of unions now.  Too often I have seen incompetent or lazy workers saved by the unions when they don’t perform their jobs. I believe this is a different situation.

There have been comments that the union has its own agenda. The root of the agenda is to get something for their members.  In this case, they are fighting for the worker’s right to be treated fairly. While it may be true that the wages currently earned are above what the market may bear – this is not the workers’ fault.  The corporations negotiated these wages with the unions.

Some have said that these are unskilled workers who shouldn’t be expecting to make such high wages. Almost all these people are highly-skilled, having gone to college and learned a trade as well as earning their tickets through an apprenticeship. At the job fair that is being conducted in rival Muncie, Indiana – a welder is being offered $14.50/hr. That wouldn’t pay for the education nor the ticket.

Many comments have been directed at the fact that these greedy workers have been living above their means if a wage cut would affect them so badly.  Cut half of anyone’s wages and they are suddenly living beyond their means.  These people have families, homes, cars etc.   They are now losing these at the whim of a corporation that will not NEGOTIATE.

ne·go·ti·ate/nəˈgōSHēˌāt/

Verb: 1. Try to reach an agreement or compromise by discussion with others: “his government’s willingness to negotiate”. 2. Obtain or bring about by negotiating: “he negotiated a contract with the sellers”.

As Caterpillar has not spoken to the union since they tabled their offer and were rejected, there can be no negotiations. Its pretty hard to negotiate when one side will not speak.

As for taking the offer and getting back to work, or knuckling under to the corporation, this is not something to be done lightly. Yes, it would get the workers off the picket line and working. Earning half of what they made before the lock-out and in some cases, barely being able to keep their heads above water. Better than that $200 strike pay, yeah?  Think about this a little more.

If this scenario occurs, it sets a frightening precedent for not only unionized workers. If a corporation, with no threat of legal recourse, can simply cut a person’s wages in half,  reduce or eliminate their benefits and pension – what will stop them from doing it to anyone? How is this a union-only issue? See the comment below – it can and does happen.

I cannot verify this particular comment, posted on the day that Caterpillar reported a 58% increase in quarterly earnings, made to the London Free Press regarding the various comments stating the workers should take their medicine, get back to work and be happy they have jobs.   I do have corroboration from a personal friend who has also had a similar experience.

If your boss asked you to take a 55% pay cut  to perform the same work – how would you feel? If we do not stand against those who threaten our ability to support ourselves and our families, in order to pad their own  wallets, who will? We can already see that the government is not willing to step in and help out.

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