On the Picket Line

British Columbia sugar workers fight bosses’ concession demands

By Ned Dmytryshyn
and Fred Nelson
October 30, 2023

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Some 135 members of Public and Private Workers of Canada Local 8 set up strike picket lines Sept. 28 outside Lantic’s Rogers Sugar refinery. The previous contract had expired in February.

Pickets also set up on street corners to get out the word about their fight.

Tyson Costa, Local 8’s plant chair at Rogers Sugar, told Militant reporters that the company wants to chop away at seniority rights and benefits and to contract out some jobs.

“They want to impose a continuous 24/7 operation and make weekend work mandatory without paying overtime. We want to choose when we work overtime or weekends,” Costa said. “Over 50% of the workers are new and under 35 with young families.

“We want a three-year contract and 6% wage increases a year,” he said. “The company is offering less than 3% yearly for five years. We’ve been falling behind to inflation for a decade, Our base rate is just CA$23 per hour.”

“This company has made so much money from our labor yet they want to take things away,” Collin Cameron, a young worker who was hired three years ago, said.

Lantic, the company that owns the sugar refinery, reports sales of 1 billion Canadian dollars ($730 million) in 2022.

Strikers said the company wants to cut extended health benefits, while they want the company to pay for their long-term disability plan.

Striker Tom Cameron, a painter with 19 years at the refinery, said, “Support from other union workers is important as we are all trying to keep our heads above water.” Striker Ed Nagy said, “Management is doing our work to keep things running. They are even bringing in sleeping bags.”

Another issue is sick days. British Columbia law says workers are entitled to five paid sick days per year. Yet when they try to take one, the company forces them to call a company nurse, who has been known to say, “You don’t sound sick to me.” Consequently, many workers just work when they’re sick.

International Longshore and Warehouse Union members have joined picket lines at the factory, which is located on the Vancouver waterfront. They brought a tent and multiple propane cylinders to keep the strikers warm and dry.

Messages of solidarity can be sent to PPWC Local 8 President Adrian Soldera, 596 Albert Street, Nanaimo, BC V9R 2W2; or to ppwc8@telus.net.