BY PHILIPPE TESSIER
AND DAVID ROSENFELD
THUNDER BAY, Ontario — After striking for two months, 900 workers at the Bombardier rail car plant here pushed back management’s attack on the pension benefits of new hires.
“They wanted to divide us by doing pensions differently for newer and older workers, but the older workers fought for us and we all stuck together,” welder Sarah Buchan, 21, told the Militant. “A lot of union members came by and donated money, food and school supplies. It was fantastic.”
Members of the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN) from the Bombardier rail car plant in La Pocatière, Quebec, visited the picket line, said Dominic Pasqualino, president of the strikers’ union, Unifor Local 1075. Unions that organize paper mill workers, health care workers and others also donated money, Pasqualino said.
Workers followed the developments in the strike closely in this town of 100,000, where the Bombardier plant and several paper mills are the largest employers.
Workers at the Bombardier plant have a “defined benefit” pension, which guarantees a certain monthly payment for the life of each retiree. Union members saw the company’s attempt to change the pension plan for new workers to a “defined contribution” plan, similar to a 401(k) plan in the United States, as the most important issue in the strike. “The company’s intention was to attack the union, impose a direct-contribution plan here, then do the same in other plants,” said Pasqualino.
Five weeks into the strike — on the eve of a government-mandated vote on the company’s “final” offer — company officials hand-delivered a letter to all strikers. Misjudging workers’ sense of solidarity, Bombardier Vice President Aaron Rivers emphasized in the letter that the defined contribution plan is “for new employees only.” Strikers resoundingly rejected the company’s ploy Aug. 26 by a vote of 81 percent. On Sept. 12, workers approved a contract that keeps the pension intact for all workers.
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