The 450 workers, who assemble diesel locomotives, were locked out Jan. 1 after they rejected the company demand for a 50 percent wage cut and massive cuts to their pensions and benefits. They set up 24/7 pickets at the main plant gate and received strong support from workers across the country.
“What is in that plant is our severance pay,” locomotive painter Graham Alexander told the Militant, referring to inventory and machinery worth hundreds of millions of dollars. “It’s time to get back to the picket line. We are continuing the fight. Caterpillar didn’t get the wage cut they wanted. In a sense we drove them out of town. We took a hard kick in the ass, but we’re still standing.”
“The way CAT [Caterpillar] has treated us they won’t be forthcoming in relation to severance pay,” said Rick Walter, another locomotive painter. “We have to make them pay us what is ours. That is why we are going to make sure nothing is moved from that plant.”
“Why couldn’t they be honest and tell us that they are going to close when they locked us out?” commented locomotive tester Brian Mott. The workers were disqualified from getting government unemployment compensation during the five-week lockout.
“I’m concerned about the guys with 20 to 30 years in the plant,” Mott continued. “We need to show that they are not alone in the battle.” Mott, who has low seniority, said he expects little severance for himself.
“The cost structure of the operation was not sustainable and efforts to negotiate a new, competitive collective agreement were not successful,” said a Caterpillar media release.
“Caterpillar had no intention of keeping this plant open,” said CAW President Ken Lewenza in a union statement. “From day one we believed that Caterpillar was trying to provoke a crisis, by forcing deep cuts that were not possible.”
The company said without being specific that it is moving the work to other operations in North and South America.
Workers and union officials said they assume this means shifting work to Caterpillar’s locomotive plant in Muncie, Ind. The plant is nonunion. Wages there are $12 to $18 an hour compared to $34 an hour for the London workers.
Thirty-six hours before the announced closure, Indiana Gov. Mitchell Daniels signed anti-union so-called “right-to-work” legislation. On Feb. 4, a Caterpillar-organized jobs fair closed down three hours early after 4,000 people turned up to apply for 250 jobs at the Muncie plant.
“I will be going back to the picket line,” David Giesbrecht, who works as a fabricator, told the Militant. “We have to stick together. We can’t let these corporations dictate to us.”
Messages and financial contributions can be sent to: CAW Local 27, 606 First St., London, Ontario N5V 2A2 (attention Electro-Motive workers). Fax: (519) 455-3960. E-mail messages can be sent to: email@example.com.
Joe Young contributed to this article.
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