On the Picket Line

Steelworkers strike over wages, workers’ deaths in Ontario

By Al Cappe
July 31, 2023

HAMILTON, Ontario — Some 1,450 members of United Steelworkers Local 7135 went on strike here June 29 against National Steel Car, a major railroad freight car manufacturer in Canada. A wage increase that covers inflation and the dangerous working conditions maintained by the bosses are key issues in the strike.

The company is offering workers a pay increase of only 10% over three years. While the official inflation rate here has fallen to 4.4% this year, price increases in food, gas, rent and other essentials are much higher. The union is demanding a 7% per year wage hike. 

“We’re not asking for doubling our wages, we’re asking at least to meet what inflation has done,” Local 7135 President Frank Crowder said at a July 6 rally in front of the plant. In addition to striking workers, members of the Hamilton and District Labour Council, other United Steelworkers locals, the Canadian Labour Congress and the Congress of Union Retirees took part. 

Safety is another major issue for the workers. Welder Quoc Le was crushed to death June 6, 2022, when the wall of a rail car weighing 2,000 pounds fell on him. Workers rallied outside the plant three days later, calling for a criminal investigation. 

Le was the third worker to die in the plant in less than two years. Crane operator Fraser Cowan was killed in September 2020, and painter Collin Grayley died in April 2021. 

Last December, the Ontario government Ministry of Labour laid three noncriminal charges against National Steel Car for violations of the Occupational Health and Safety Act in the death of Cowan. The company pled guilty to one charge and paid a fine. The other charges were dropped.

This past May, the government laid three charges against the company in the death of Quoc Le. That trial is pending.

No criminal charges against the bosses have been filed, the July 6 Hamilton Spectator  reported.

Strikers are picketing 24/7 in front of the plant at 600 Kenilworth Ave. N. Messages of solidarity can be sent to info@usw7135.ca.