350 workers hit the picket lines at Haley Industries

·4 min read

Haley Station -- It’s been more than a week since the Production and Maintenance division of Local 4820 of the United Steelworkers went on strike at Magellan Aerospace near Haley Station.

Contract negotiations had been ongoing even though the contract expired on Monday, March 15, said Leonard Godin, president of Local 4820. He noted the Office and Clerical division settled their contract.

“We extended the contract so we could have more talks,” he said. “But then they (the company) just gave us a final offer.”

On Friday, March 26, the 350 employees voted to strike and hit the picket line at 12:01 Monday, March 29.

Mr. Godin said there are a few things the employees aren’t happy with, including having no sick days, the fear of the company adding a weekend shift when there are not currently three shifts throughout the week; there being no raise in the pension and pay raises, of which there is none in the first year, 30 cents per hour more in the second year and 35 cents per hour more in the third year. Mr. Godin noted the average wage is $23 an hour, but that includes the tradespeople who earn more than the non-tradespeople.

Jennifer McMaster, vice-president of the union, said family life is important to her co-workers. If a weekend shift is added, and there is not a third shift during the week, that disrupts family life.

“Work and life balance is important to us,” she said, with Mr. Godin adding, “most of the employees live and spend their money in the Valley.”

Many people don’t understand the importance of standing up to corporations, he said. If unions were to back down each time a company said this is the final offer, and it’s not near to what they were negotiating for, it’s not the time to accept the contract.

While many people are not working during the pandemic due to lockdowns, Ms. McMaster said Premier Doug Ford made Magellan employees essential workers because “we are part of a supply chain.”

Mr. Godin said the company received 75 per cent of the federal government’s Emergency Wage Subsidy, which is about $20 million for the Canada-wide company, but there was no reflection in the wage. However, the company did provide each employee with a t-shirt saying, “Standing Together Six Feet Apart.”

It was nine years ago employees went on strike and previous to that it was sometime in the 1990s, Mr. Godin said.

He recalled back in the ’90s, employees were fed up with the minimum money being offered and decided “it was time to take a stand.

“Here we are again. Our pay doesn’t even keep up to the cost of living,” he said.

While on strike, each employee must work the picket line eight hours in a week and due to the pandemic, there are only five people allowed at each gate, so there are three shifts operating, Mr. Godin said. The strike pay is a certain percentage of their wage and is paid by the International Steelworkers Union with a top-up by the District 6 United Steelworkers, Ms. McMaster said. District 6 is all of Ontario and the Maritimes.

Mr. Godin said the negotiating team, comprised of seven union members and a rep from the Ottawa United Steelworkers Union office, are waiting for a call to go back to the table and resume talks.

Ms. McMaster said this strike is not just about money.

“It’s protecting what should be a good job and keeping it being a good job,” she said. “We are protecting us and future co-workers.”

“I’m not ashamed of what we’re doing,” Mr. Godin said.

Laura Podaima, Director of Marketing Services and Corporate Communication for Magellan Aerospace, responded via email with a press release and a statement.

“Magellan remains committed and receptive to continuing meaningful negotiations,” she wrote.

The press release reads, in part, “Magellan Aerospace, Haley and the United Steel Workers Union, Local 4820 have been negotiating a new labour agreement with the Production & Maintenance employees since December 15, 2020. The previous agreement expired on Monday, 15 March 2021.”

The rest of the release was what the company does for aerospace, including that it provides complex assemblies and systems solutions to aircraft and engine manufacturers, and defence and space agencies worldwide.

Connie Tabbert, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader