MONTREAL — Some 530 Rolls-Royce aircraft engine maintenance workers here, members of the Quebec Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN), set up strike picket lines March 15.
Several strikers told the Militant that the company had locked them out while they were in a union meeting, in the process of voting on a strike mandate. But the callous move failed to intimidate anyone, and, if anything, increased the number voting to strike to 94%.
“Rolls-Royce wants to take away what we’ve won over the years and push back our benefits and working conditions 20 years,” Pascal Ouellet, an inspector who has worked there for 14 years, said. He added that rapidly rising prices mean “we’re earning less each month. We have no choice but to fight.”
While they haven’t had a pension increase in 10 years, he said, Rolls-Royce wants to further weaken their retirement benefits. The bosses want to get rid of the defined benefit plan most workers are in and replace it with a much-inferior contribution scheme. Many workers told the Militant this is the most important issue in their strike.
The union is also fighting to end the two-tier defined benefit pension plan they have, which is only available to workers who were hired before 2013. They’re demanding all workers be treated equally, regardless of when they got hired.
The company wants to double the cost of benefits for current employees, as well as eliminating all benefits for retirees. Even though their previous contract ended two years ago, the company refuses to give the workers any retroactive pay. The union is demanding a five-year contract from March 2020 with a 5% annual wage increase.
Adlai Ceasar said that in the 18 years he’s worked there the union has given a number of concessions. The company always says that they need workers’ “help” to get one or another contract. However, he said, “The truth is that the union has gotten nothing by giving concessions. It’s time for us to fight back.”
After Rolls-Royce suspended a union representative last November, the union organized a one-day walkout demanding “an end to union busting at the plant.”
“In addition,” the union said, “more than 30 surveillance cameras have recently been installed in the workplace and several security guards have been hired to patrol the factory.”
In the weeks leading up to the strike the union put up a billboard in French next to the plant saying, “We demand respect from Rolls-Royce Canada.”
In the face of the bosses’ deepening attacks on working people and soaring prices, “unions are needed more than ever,” said striker Paul D’Amico, a fitter there for 33 years.
Jim Upton, a retired member of the CSN local, contributed to this article.