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February 2, 2017

State-Organized Attempts to Impose Concessions

 Oppose Attack on Essar Algoma Steelworkers' Right to Strike


State-Organized Attempts to Impose Concessions
Oppose Attack on Essar Algoma Steelworkers' Right to Strike

Outaouais Public Transit Workers Confront Attacks on
Working Conditions
- A Gatineau Bus Driver

Workers' Struggle for Their Health and Safety in the Workplace
Stop the Tragedies in the Trucking Industry - Normand Chouinard
New York Construction Workers Ask "How Many More Must Die!"

State-Organized Attempts to Impose Concessions

Oppose Attack on Essar Algoma Steelworkers'
Right to Strike

The 2,100 steelworkers of Essar Steel Algoma are facing a state-organized attack on their right to strike. In an extremely provocative move, the executives presently in control of the steel company in Sault Ste. Marie served Algoma steelworkers' Local union 2251 a notice that they may seek a no-board report from the Ontario Ministry of Labour and unilaterally impose concessionary contract terms sometime around February 20.

USW Local 2251 members gathered in meetings to prepare a plan of action to defend their rights. They discussed the provocation and the concessions the Algoma executives threaten to impose. These include an across-the-board 10 per cent wage reduction, elimination of cost of living increases, and reduction of paid vacations amongst other changes.

In an interview with SooToday, Local 2251 President Mike Da Prat said, "Once the no-board report is issued, there are 14 days before the company can lock us out, the union can strike, or there could be terms imposed unilaterally by the company. Once the no-board report is issued, we will definitely be calling a vote. Now, we have to put in motion all those issues and practices that are required for a strike."

An issue in this provocation against steelworkers arises from the current inter-imperialist fight over who owns and controls Essar Algoma Steel. This bitter international battle is taking place both within the Canadian bankruptcy process of the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) and in Minnesota where an affiliate company of Essar Global is under Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The contention over control of Algoma steel production involves powerful members of the financial oligarchy from Germany, the U.S. and India. At present within the CCAA process, it appears the Debtor-In-Possession (DIP) lenders led by Deutsche Bank AG from Germany and aided by the Ernst & Young (EY) oligarchs from the UK, U.S. and India have gained the upper hand. They control the CCAA monitor while the Ontario Superior Court justice in charge of the proceedings, Frank Newbould, agrees to whatever they demand.

The control and arrogance of the oligarchs are on display in the 24th monitor's report appearing January 26, 2017 on the EY website. The report contains a direct threat against steelworkers' right to strike. At paragraph 33 it states, "The monitor also notes that the occurrence of any labour disruptions (including any strike, work stoppage, work slowdown or any other form of labour disruption) involving the applicants employees would trigger an event of default under the extended DIP agreement."

The monitor's report also reveals the direct interference of the DIP lenders in the organization of the mill and relations with both steelworkers and salaried employees. The monitor writes, "The DIP extension amendment contains a milestone that the operating expenses of Algoma have to be reduced by $22,200,000 on an annualized basis by March 15, 2017. Unless a global resolution is reached between the term lenders and unions, the only practical way Algoma can achieve this milestone is by imposing remuneration terms on its employees pursuant to a conciliation process after the issuance and expiry of 'the no board report' by The Minister of Labour." (WF emphasis). The threat is directed against all 2,770 workers at Essar Steel Algoma -- 2,161 steelworker members of USW Local 2251 and 609 salaried employees, members of USW Local 2724.

The DIP lenders are considered first in line secured holders of assets according to the CCAA.

Justice Newbould issued an order on January 24, declaring he will decide February 5 on the legality of a company under CCAA filing for a no-board report. Newbould used the occasion once again to agree with the monitor and denounce Local 2251 for preparing to defend itself through withdrawing its members' capacity to work in response to threats of a lockout or unilateral imposition of concessions. Instead of criticizing those currently in control of Essar Steel Algoma for threatening steelworkers and creating the necessity for defensive strike action, the Ontario Superior Court justice wrote in his ruling, "It is extremely unsettling to a restructuring process for union officials to be publicly discussing a possible strike. It is affecting the business of Algoma and that is not helpful to anyone."

The CCAA attack on rights is part of a bigger problem where basic essential sectors of the economy are under the control of the global financial oligarchy, and state structures with police power facilitate and perpetuate that control.

The Justice Is Upset

The provocation of the oligarchs presently in control of Essar Steel Algoma, who threaten unilateral changes to working conditions, does not upset the justice of the Superior Court. No, his ire is directed at Canadian working people who produce the value the oligarchs covet.

The disruptive dogfight amongst the international financial oligarchy over control of Algoma Steel does not upset the justice.

The police power of CCAA to stop paying the monthly legally committed pension payments into the three Algoma pension plans does not upset the justice. The plans have over 2,000 active members and 6,451 retirees and dependents and a current aggregate wind-up deficit of $527 million growing larger by the month.

The refusal of the company to pay the legally constituted municipal taxes while under CCAA does not upset the justice.

The collapse of the Algoma steel mill safety committees and stay of human rights legislation under the police power of the CCAA does not upset the justice.

The outrageous conditions imposed on Algoma Steel by the U.S. supplier of iron ore, Cliffs Natural Resources, because of its violent fight with Essar Global over control of iron ore deposits and mining in Minnesota, and the monitor's confirmation of its dictate do not upset the justice.

The inclusion in the DIP lending terms of a clause triggering automatic default and collapse of the company upon any strike action in defence of steelworkers' rights does not upset the justice.

Algoma Steel being forced three times in recent memory into the extralegal CCAA wasteland of police power, a state institution that negates rights, issues judicial dictates, and quite obviously does nothing to sort out the problems of the economy, but simply restructures and redistributes existing social wealth amongst feuding members of the financial oligarchy does not upset the justice.

In sum, the anachronistic CCAA state institution does not upset the justice because he is sworn to impose a law that exists to generate maximum profits for the wealthy owners of capital, regardless of the misery it causes for the workers, their families and communities.

Justice Newbould's attacks are directed against the rights of steelworkers, who quite justly are determined to defend their jobs, wages, benefits and pensions as well as the steel economy that is so important to their northern community. In his actions, he exhibits contempt for the well-being of working people and shows no concern for the health of the steel economy and the communities of the North. His concern is only for the rights and well-being of the financial oligarchs and the power of their state institutions to deprive working people of their rights.

Organizing for a Modern Aim

The present state structures such as the CCAA are controlled by those who are not the peers of the Canadian working people. Those state institutions are obsolete and in need of radical change and a modern outlook and aim to serve the well-being and security of the people and their socialized economy. Control of the basic sectors of the economy and state institutions must be in the hands of those with a stake in Canada and their local communities and economy, the actual producers who create the social wealth on which the people and society depend for their existence.

The motive and aim of the financial oligarchs for private riches, power and empire-building are too narrow, destructive and detached from solving the real problems faced by the people and the modern socialized economy on which the people and society depend. The modern economy needs a broad aim encompassing the seamless functioning of all its interconnected sectors in conformity with its socialized nature to serve and guarantee the well-being of all the people and the general interests of society.

The international financial oligarchy's control of Canada's basic economic sectors and the state-organized attacks on the rights of workers are a reflection of the old that needs to be replaced by a modern aim and way of sorting out problems in the economy and the relations amongst the people in conformity with the socialized nature of the modern productive forces. Who decides, who controls and who has the power to solve problems and move the economy and society forward in a new direction are problems the working class must take up and solve. The concerns, needs, security and well-being of the working people and their economy and society must become the priority, motivation and aim of a modern Canada.

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Outaouais Public Transit Workers Confront Attacks
on Working Conditions
  "The Employer has Undertaken to Change our Working
Conditions Unilaterally."

Bus drivers and maintenance workers organized in Local 591 of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) in the Outaouais region in Quebec have been attempting for two years to negotiate a new collective agreement that is acceptable to them. Their previous agreement expired on December 31, 2014, and the employer, the Société de transport de l'Outaouais (STO) is demanding rollbacks in working conditions. Since the workers began legal work-to-rule on January 20 after issuing a strike notice, the STO has begun to impose changes to staffing, policies on illness and leave, among other attacks. Workers' Forum asked a bus driver who belongs to the local about what the workers are facing.


Workers' Forum: What are the main issues in your current struggle against the Société de transport de l'Outaouais?

STO Worker: There are a number of things, such as work schedules, breaks between trips, requirements for doctor's notes in case of illness, drivers' shifts and the employer's contribution to our insurance and to the pension plan. The STO seeks to impose setbacks by taking away from us the gains we made in the past.

In September 2016, we received the second employer global offer, which was worse than the first offer presented a year ago. The STO wants a rollback, for example, on the issue of work schedules, which are very important to us because they are directly linked to our quality of life. One of our demands is that more of our schedules be continuous schedules, i.e. more shifts of eight hours continuous rather than split shifts. A split shift is, for example, where the driver works from 5:30 to 9:30 am and then returns to work from 3:00 to 6:00 pm and is free between the two periods. We already have a percentage of continuous shifts, about 28 per cent, and the STO wants to reduce this percentage. For the employer, more broken shifts means that they need to hire fewer drivers. For us, this means a decrease in the quality of life, especially as with the accumulated seniority older drivers can choose work schedules that are most suitable for them, such as those with weekend days off. By changing the parameters, the value of seniority is weakened.

Another rollback is the return to what was called the "taxi," the drivers' shifts on the road. This year the STO opened a second transport centre, a second garage, as we call it. With this, they want drivers to finish the first part of a trip anywhere or at a terminal, and leave it up to the driver to get back to the garage outside their schedule. Right now, all our schedules are garage to garage and we want to maintain this situation.

On the question of sick leave, the collective agreement eliminated the obligation to present a doctor's note when one was absent due to illness. They want to bring back the doctor's note and without it drivers will not get paid.

Right now, too, we have no guaranteed break in any schedule, or a minimum of guaranteed breaks. If you are caught in traffic, you lose your break. We want to change that. We also ask that the STO increase its contribution to our insurance plan and pension plan. In the employers' global offer of September 2016, they demanded that their contribution to our insurance premiums be reduced from 92 per cent to 80 per cent.

We cannot accept these demands.

WF: Since the beginning of the work-to-rule campaign, the STO has undertaken to unilaterally modify your working conditions so as to impose rollbacks.

STO Worker: Yes. Since we began our work-to-rule job action following our legal strike notice, by refusing to do overtime for example, the STO undertook to change our working conditions unilaterally. They use the pretext of a lack of buses to send the drivers back home without paying them for their working day of 8 hours. If the drivers work two hours in a day they are paid for two hours, whereas in the collective agreement we have an eight-hour guaranteed work day. The drivers are now beginning to find out in advance that they will be sent back home because they see on the STO website the day before that trips are being cancelled. This is not a lack of buses. Trips are cancelled in advance. Drivers come to work, then they are sent home. So for some drivers the eight-hour workday guarantee no longer applies. It is a countermeasure of the employer to our legal slowdown. They are the ones who decide who works and who does not work. We are going back 100 years to when you went to work and employers gave shifts to their friends while sending the others home.

In addition to cutting hours and sending workers home, the STO refuses all requests for flexible leave days, unpaid leave, workers exchanging their shifts, etc. They are demanding a doctor's note in case of illness otherwise the worker is not getting paid.

The workers have had enough. Our strike mandate -- I have never seen that in all my years at the STO -- was 98.3 per cent, with a participation rate of 75 per cent of the members.

We are very united and the employer is trying to create divisions. They are blaming the union for the fact that negotiations are not getting anywhere. The STO recently, several times, suspended the union president and members of the executive for performing their duty of representing the members, saying that this had nothing to do with the negotiations. When the union withdrew from the bargaining table, the employer blamed the union for taking things personally and blocking the negotiations.

Public support is good. People come to us and tell us to continue. We feel supported by the general public.

The workers want a conclusion to all this. They want their working conditions to be improved instead of moving backward.

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Workers' Struggle for Their Health and Safety in the Workplace

Stop the Tragedies in the Trucking Industry

Convoy of trucks arrive in Quebec City for demonstration at National Assembly to affirm
their dignity and rights, November 19, 2016.

The trucking industry, involving hundreds of thousands of workers in Canada, is regularly in the headlines with reports of serious accidents, including deaths. This has been particularly true in the first month of 2017, when three truckers died in accidents on the job in Quebec in just one week. The accidents involved dump trucks and trucks of container type or container semi-trailer. This type of equipment is used in the construction industry, the agricultural sector, waste collection, material recycling, snow collection, etc. Dump trucks are machine tools that require a high level of training and competence, including highly skilled health and safety training. However, the training of workers in this area is totally inadequate, truckers report. Continuous training for truckers to be able to perform their job safely is one of the most pressing demands in this sector, given the dangerous nature of their work.

Provincial and federal occupational health and safety laws make companies responsible for ensuring a safe workplace for their employees. But the reality is quite different. The massive privatizations in recent years, the ever-increasing pace of work, the unbridled competition between the transport companies and the budgetary pressure exerted on the industries and especially the independent drivers, have overwhelmed the working conditions on the ground. When an incident or serious accidents take place, the blame is routinely pinned on the truckers themselves. The lack of accountability of manufacturing and transport companies, which constantly point the finger at truckers for accidents, leads to tragedies. This is the case in all sectors of the transportation industry.

Truckers are keenly aware that the situation continues to deteriorate. While Labour Standards, pay equity and workplace health and safety board (CNESST in Quebec) may conduct investigations in the event of an incident, make such investigations public and refer them to the Ministry of Transportation or the trucking association which oversees large transportation companies, there is no change in health and safety for truckers. According to the Robert Sauvé Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (IRSST), "fatalities related to a road accident account for between 25 per cent and 30 per cent of all accidental deaths in the workplace." Within this, 83 per cent of the victims are drivers.

What do truckers need to do to ensure their safety when all institutions, laws, standards and obligations fail to do so? What authority should they rely on to protect their health and safety at work?

More and more truckers have come to the conclusion that they can count only on themselves. They realize that while laws, regulations, and obligations governing workplace health and safety exist, nothing will change if truckers do not organize themselves to enforce and develop them. Various collectives of truckers have joined an affiliated union and created joint health and safety committees in their companies. The idea of forming a national truckers' association is also spreading throughout Quebec and Canada. But what is most important is the determination of more and more truckers to themselves decide on the issues that affect them, their jobs and their lives. By taking a firm stand to put an end to the tragedies that regularly hit the transportation industry, truckers contribute to a new direction for their industry.

(With files from CNEEST, IRSST, Radio Canada, TVA)

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New York Construction Workers Ask
"How Many More Must Die!"

New York City construction workers are raising the alarm over deaths of workers in their industry. Workers organized in the Greater New York Labor-Employers Cooperation & Education Trust have begun a "How Many More Must Die" campaign to denounce the failure of authorities to take responsibility for the safety of construction workers. The workers are informing the public that more than 30 construction workers have died on the job in the past two years. The workers are calling on the city government to adopt laws that guarantee their health and safety and prevent companies from subcontracting work to companies whose workers are improperly trained and without union membership.

On January 18 at a street march in New York City, construction workers held an action in which they dressed in black and each wore a number to represent the workers killed on the job, and held mock tombstones bearing the names of the workers. Inscribed on the tombstones was, "Cause of Death: Greed, Exploitation." Other slogans included, "Safety Before Profits," "Need Over Greed, Safety First." Media reported that at least 31 workers were arrested during the action.

A rally on January 13, in front of the Gilbane Building Company offices in the heart of Manhattan denounced the use of untrained, non-union subcontractors on construction sites. A vigil was also held at City Hall to demand that elected officials render account and strengthen measures to protect construction workers. Many other actions are planned in this life and death matter for construction workers.

Workers' Forum sends its support to New York City construction workers in their courageous battle for their rights and to defend their lives. Canadian and Quebec workers stand alongside U.S. workers in the fight against retrogression and to uphold the dignity of labour.

(Photo: LECET)

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