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More to the EMD London Closure than CAW

March 14, 2012

In December 2011, the CAW, representing the unionized workers rejected what ended up being the final contract offer.  They did not go on strike because they were locked out on 1 January 2012. No further formal negotiations were conducted and on February 3rd, 2012, Caterpillar, Inc., announced the closure of the Electro-Motive Diesel plant at 2021 Oxford Street East, London, Ontario.

The over a month-long ‘battle’ between the CAW and the parent company ended with 10os of people out of work.  During that time, there was great emphasis on the union and its refusal to accept the monstrous cut-backs in the offered contract being the impetus for Cat to close up shop. There was both support for and against the union from the community.

Another factor lost amidst the arguments for and against the union position throughout the situation,  is the fate of the salaried employees. On the 9th of January Cat laid off approximately 20 salaried office/administrative employees.  While the CAW negotiated a severance package for its members, this does not apply to the many salaried workers who are also out of a job.  Some of these employees have been there over 30 years.

The same company that treated its unionized workforce in a shameful manner is showing no favouritism and treating its salaried employees no better.  There are many activities that have to be performed to close down the plant despite the limited manufacturing that has to occur to complete the remaining in-process locomotives.  It is apparent that the parent company is just biding its time, waiting until the bulk of the employees, mostly the younger people who have an easier chance of obtaining new employment and less to lose in terms of any package based on time served – leave.

Those who remain are those who stand to benefit from a similar package due to their high number of years at EMD, which they can only receive if they remain until Caterpillar decides to let them go.  These are the people who may also find it more difficult to find replacement employment due to their age and situation – very few companies hire from the outside at the level of experience these employees have. Cat has chosen to wait them out instead of doing the honourable thing and paying them for their years of service.

Finally, down at the flagship EMD plant in LaGrange, Illinois, the UAW has also rejected the company’s recent contract offer, although by a much slimmer margin. This was despite the fact the union recommended accepting the offer.  One has to believe that some of this resistance was due to conflicted views of what happened here in London.

In London, I believe that the workers knew that there was little or no chance of EMD remaining open for any significant length of time and that the contract offer was tendered in order for Caterpillar to be able to state honestly that it had made an offer, never mind the fact that it was an unrealistic offer.  The union made a stand on behalf of its workers and others like them out of principle.

Given the results in London, it is not a surprise that there would be mixed feelings amongst the membership in LaGrange.  It is a conflict of principle and need; the principle of fair and reasonable negotiations – fair pay for fair work, and the need for employment. The fear that the jobs in Illinois could just as easily be moved to the new plant in Muncie, Indiana are very real. And if the opposite side won’t ‘play fair,’ one has to look out for one’s livelihood.   So as the worker, you have to look for the lesser of two evils. But consider that, at least in the case of Caterpillar; unionized or not, you’ll be treated equally poorly.

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