Rolls-Royce workers end strike, ‘will win more in future fights’

By Steve Penner
October 3, 2022

MONTREAL — The 530 members of the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN) at Rolls-Royce Canada, who repair and overhaul aircraft engines, decided by a vote of 62% Sept. 1 to accept a conciliator’s report and end their hard-fought five-and-a-half-month fight against the concession demands from the company.

The eight-year agreement, which is retroactive to 2020, includes wage increases totaling 25% and a signing bonus of $5,500 Canadian dollars ($4,145). Some workers were unhappy they hadn’t been able to win a cost-of-living clause in the contract, to ensure that wages would increase automatically to meet rising prices.

“It’s not the best, but it’s something we can live with,” Adlai Ceasar, who has worked at the plant for 18 years, told the Militant, expressing the attitude of many workers. For him the key gain of the strike is that “Rolls-Royce will have to take us more seriously now. We’ve shown we’re not afraid to walk out. We’ll be able to win more in the future.”

Many workers considered the fight over pensions the most important issue in the strike. Under the new agreement, the defined benefit plan, which the strikers had fought to maintain, will continue through Dec. 31, 2025.

Sometime before then the workers will vote on a new pension plan. The plan the union favors is less secure than the current defined benefit plan, which is off the table. In it if the value of the pension fund investments declines so could the benefits.

Pascal Ouellet, an inspector who has worked at Rolls-Royce for 14 years, told the Militant that it’s a “real blow” that the union wasn’t able to force the company to rehire Frederic Labelle, the union president, who was fired during the lockout. Labelle says his firing was “a frame-up” and an attempt to break the union.

In addition, the company says it’s investigating Hrvoje Golek, a member of the negotiating committee, and Paul D’Amico, a former union president, and could take disciplinary action against them.

Ouellet was also disappointed that they had lost the defined benefit plan, but said, “We were told by the union that there was nothing more to win on the pensions.” Nevertheless, he said, it was crucial “we took the fight to the company. The membership held strong for six months. It was a beautiful show of solidarity.”

The union had voted down two previous company offers by overwhelming majorities. This was the union’s first strike at Rolls-Royce Canada in almost 50 years.

Steeve Mayer, a picket captain during the strike who has worked there for 23 years, said, “Many members got involved actively in unionism” for the first time through the lockout. “We went back to work with our heads held high because we won respect.”

Their fight won support from other workers, including striking bakery workers at Bridor on the Montreal south shore, Canadian National Railroad train conductors, construction workers, bus drivers and health care workers. And Rolls-Royce strikers joined the picket line of CN signal workers on strike.

Two hundred of the Rolls-Royce workers and their supporters marched and rallied at Quebec Premier Francois Legault’s office here Aug. 3 to protest the Quebec provincial government giving millions of dollars in handouts to Rolls-Royce bosses.

“When Rolls-Royce went into lockdown we all decided together that we would not give in to intimidation,” Labelle said. “We may not have won everything we wanted, but we still got substantial improvements over what the company wanted to impose on us in the first place. We were right to hold our own!”

Jim Upton, a retired member of the CSN local, contributed to this article.