On the Picket Line

Over 300 Montreal Steelworkers strike Owens Illinois over wages

By Katy LeRougetel
June 12, 2023

MONTREAL — “There’s nothing moving in the plant,” striker Serge Latendresse told the Militant on the picket line in front of Owens Illinois, Quebec’s only glass factory, May 27. Over 300 United Steelworkers Local 206G members walked out May 10 after rejecting an insulting company offer of merely 1% each year of a three-year contract, well below inflation.

Strikers warmly greeted three Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Local 55 members as we brought donuts and solidarity. It was noisy, as passing drivers — everyone from firemen in their truck to cyclists with bike bells — sounded their support. “A lot of locals have come to see what we’re doing out here, and when we explain, they say, ‘keep it up!’” Christopher Dupuis told us.

“In the last two years, we’ve fallen 6% behind on wages,” Latendresse said. “During the pandemic, we got pizza once — and half of us got sick from it. We got no raise, no extra pay during COVID. Now they’ve offered us what they think we’re worth — 1%.”

He explained the tradition among Steelworkers locals of mutual support, including regular financial backing. “With all the unions who are contributing, we can thumb our noses at the company.” USW locals at ArcelorMittal and other companies in the region have already sent thousands of dollars in support.

Owens Illinois is the world’s biggest glass manufacturer, operating in over 20 countries. This is the first strike at the Montreal plant in 40 years.

“The company says it’s ‘green.’ That’s their battle horse, but it’s more of a Trojan horse,” said striker Anthony Bocquet. “This is a fight employees are going to have to wage inside the plant.” Glass is infinitely recyclable, strikers said, but the Quebec government has not implemented this program at the plant.

“Instead, it’s brought in from Ontario. That’s more pollution with truck and train transport,” Latendresse added. “And the bottles in your green bin here end up in the landfill.”

“We don’t even get gloves that prevent burns,” Bocquet said. “And we work with glass at a melting point of 1,400 degrees C.”

The picket line is up 24/7. Drop by 2376 Wellington St. in Montreal, or the warehouse in LaSalle. Help get out the word!