MONTREAL — “Enough of being walked over, now we shall walk to them,” Eric Dumas, president of United Steelworkers Local 206-G, told 150 strikers and supporters June 16 before they set out on a march through the neighborhood of Pointe-St-Charles here. The 330 workers at the plant make bottles out of recycled glass.
The work is challenging. In the summer temperatures in the plant hit 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Workers who’ve been there awhile have a perpetual tan from the heat of the molten glass.
Workers from a number of unions turned out to show solidarity with the strikers, who’ve been out since May 10. The United Food and Commercial Workers, Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Canadian Union of Public Employees and USW workers from Quebec City and throughout the province joined in. Many retired Owens-Illinois workers also took part.
Company bosses have offered wage increases of just 1% per year over a three-year contract, an offer many consider totally out of touch with inflation and the economic struggles workers and their families face today.
Meanwhile, the bosses poured 70 million Canadian dollars ($53.1 million) into new equipment during the pandemic, aided by CA$21 million contribution from the Quebec government.
“We’re asking for what’s due to us, we need to protect our purchasing capacity as workers,’’ Dominic Lemieux, USW Quebec director, told the crowd. The union is demanding a 7% pay increase immediately and 4% for each of the following two years.
Marching through the working-class neighborhood to Marguerite-Bourgeoys Park, right in front of the Owens-Illinois plant, strikers were greeted with support by residents and motorists. Everyone arrived in good spirits. Food and refreshments were served at the park, prepared by members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
“I’m so glad to see all the retired workers show up,” Elise Laberge, a striker and union delegate, said. “The last contract was ratified by just 51%, so we all felt a strike was coming.
“What we want is respect. After all, the employer refused over 16 times to meet for negotiations, before and after the conflict started,” she said. “The last strike was in 1984, so almost everyone is new to this. But my sense is that everyone wants to continue the fight.”