July 3, 2018

Recent Developments in Quebec Crane Operators'
Fight for Their Rights

What Should Crane Operators Do
About Quebec Government's
Provocative Proposal?


Montreal crane operators rally May 5, 2018.

Recent Developments in Quebec Crane Operators' Fight for Their Rights
What Should Crane Operators Do About Quebec Government's
Provocative Proposal?

Role of Monopoly Media in Peddling Government Anti-Worker Defamation
The Ugly Face of "Risk Management"
Workers Support Quebec Crane Operators

Salt Mine Rally in Goderich

Community Barbecue and Rally Supports Striking Salt Mine Workers

Lockout Reaches Five Long Years
United Steelworkers Local 1005 Holds Picket at MANA Gates

Recent Developments in Quebec Crane Operators' Fight for Their Rights

What Should Crane Operators Do About Quebec Government's Provocative Proposal?

Crane operators rally outside Head Office of the Quebec Construction Commission,
Montreal, June 21, 2018.

After a week-long job action of refusing to show up for work, Quebec crane operators returned to their jobs on June 26. The 1,400 workers, the vast majority members of the Crane Operators' Union, walked off the job in protest against the government's unilateral regulatory changes to the qualifications for their trade. The Quebec Construction Commission (CCQ) and the Quebec Couillard government are attempting to impose changes without their consent even though they are the ones who do the work.

The government has created a framework of illegality, not that of a polity which has a government of laws where all individuals, collectives and factions can sort out their differences and reach a solution agreeable to all on a peaceful basis which upholds democratic principle. In other words, even the process should have the agreement of the parties involved. Instead, first the government proposes regulations which the construction companies want. Then, consultations proved to be phony because they are used to promote defamatory and anti-worker arguments of the construction monopolies. One claim is that the workers' defence organizations are a "monopoly" which constitutes a "mafia." It is common knowledge in the society that this more aptly describes the construction companies and their collusion with government, not the workers who defend the standards society has set for hiring, health and safety, the operation of unions on work sites, etc.

Then, once the workers are shut out of what is called the democratic process and take action to defend their health and safety, they are "illegal." However, the workers' response in defence of their rights and the rights of all was so categorical, now the government is squirming. The fact is that the action of the crane operators was so militant and such a resounding and eloquent expression of the interests of all construction workers, not just crane operators, and it clearly has the support of the public, that the government is, as we said, squirming. Its "new approach" is more of the same -- another provocation which the workers reject. The issue necessarily arises about what they can do about this new provocation.

The crane operators' union called on members to return to work following the June 21 decision of an Administrative Labour Tribunal judge ordering them to do so or face severe individual and collective punishment. The returning workers were greeted warmly at construction sites by other construction workers, many of whom had lost days of pay after they were sent home from those construction sites unable to continue without crane operators. Several construction workers told the media that they support the crane operators' struggle to defend their health and safety, a struggle which also defends the health and safety of all construction workers and the public.

Following their return to work, Quebec's Minister of Labour issued a statement, which reads in part:

"[The Minister responsible for Labour] announces that the Quebec government will meet with the leaders of the Quebec Federation of Labour (FTQ) to take stock of the illegal strike last week. A first meeting will be held prior to the construction holidays to explain the nature of the proposed amendments to the workforce training regulation in the construction industry. An independent committee on the security aspect of the regulation will then be set up to respond to the concerns of some.... The Quebec government will quickly meet with the FTQ leaders to review the events of last week and provide them with the necessary explanations regarding the amendments to the regulations." (WF emphasis)

The Minister's statement does not say the government will meet the crane operators' union or even FTQ-Construction of which the union is a local. The Minister's declaration rejects the two immediate demands of the crane operators. Keep in mind that the statement of the ministry talks about "proposed amendments" even though they have already been imposed. The crane operators' first demand is that, given the new regulations reduce the quantity and quality of crane operator training, they should be withdrawn. Second, a forum or roundtable should be established, to include all stakeholders in the construction sector, to calmly review current regulations and establish new ones that will improve the safety standards for crane operators within the changing conditions in the industry, rather than reducing standards as the new regulations do.

These are sensible proposals for a process which upholds democratic principle. The government should accept these proposals and peace can prevail on the construction sites in Quebec.

The government's further provocation, however, suggests that the crane operators do not understand the new regulations and need to be informed and educated about them. With this provocation, the government signals it has no intention of withdrawing the new regulations, or even modifying them, following a "first meeting" with the FTQ "to explain the nature of the proposed amendments" or after the deliberations of a government-appointed "independent committee" whose membership has yet to be announced.

Safety = Training: CCQ = Danger

The crane operators have said from the beginning that they do not want "explanations regarding the (unilateral) amendments to the regulations"; they want serious discussions as to how to improve the regulations to guarantee the health and safety of construction workers and the public.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and the Minister's press secretary went further with the provocation. While on a visit to Washington, DC, Couillard spoke to the press about the new crane operator regulations saying, "It's something that's there to simplify the construction industry, in a good way. There is no evidence that there is any impact on the safety of people. Over time, we will see if the issues they have described actually occur."

In fact, there is plenty of evidence which proves that "the issues they have described" actually do occur. To pretend no evidence exists of any impact on safety, and time will see if accidents, which Couillard calls "issues," occur, is not only unacceptable, it is pathetic. The regulations in place, which the amendments Couillard is defending undermine, are there because serious "issues" have already occurred. Crane operators have long drawn attention to the danger of injuries and deaths in their trade and to the necessity of the most stringent regulations governing training and safety on job sites. The construction sector has the highest rates of workplace injuries and death in Quebec, and the government is duty bound to end this state of affairs.

Minister of Labour's press secretary bluntly told the press that there is "no question of reopening the regulations" regarding the reduced training of crane operators.

Meanwhile, serious threats are hanging over the heads of the crane operators and their leaders and union as a result of the criminalization of their just demands. Huge fines and even possible jail terms hang over their heads because they did not obey the June 21 Administrative Labour Tribunal order to return to work before June 26. The Ministry of Transport on June 22 sent a formal notice to the relevant unions warning them that the Ministry will claim damages related to what the Administrative Labour Tribunal described as an illegal strike.

The crane operators are striving to assert the justice of their cause within a legal space of action where they can have a voice concerning their working conditions. This space is being denied to them by the government at the behest of private interests imposed through the police powers of the state. The police powers claim to be a public authority in the service of the public interest but they are clearly not. The public interest can never be served by negating the rights of workers and trampling democratic principles in the mud.

In spite of all the evidence and life experience of construction workers, the government and its agencies declare that workers have no cause and are acting as criminals and that they should uphold the democratic peaceful road by capitulating to the state dictate. All of it is done to sweep under the rug the issues raised by the workers which directly affect their well-being and the standards for the entire society. It must not pass!

A positive intervention is the action of the union representing the professional instructors who train crane operators, the Syndicat de l'enseignement des Seigneuries. On June 29, the union denounced the irresponsible actions of the government and CCQ. It demands serious discussions be held to find viable solutions and that those discussions include crane operators and instructors. The instructors' union along with the crane operators and their union defend the Diploma of Vocational Studies, the training standard that has yielded positive results in reducing the number of deaths and injuries in areas where cranes are used.

Workers' Forum calls on workers to call members of the National Assembly, write letters and speak out to express support for the stand of the crane operators and to demand that the government and the CCQ step back and stop the criminalization of workers fighting for their rights and reach an acceptable agreement on the basis of a process which upholds democratic principle.

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Role of Monopoly Media In Peddling
Government Anti-Worker Defamation

The role of the monopoly mass media in the context of the fight of the crane operators for their rights has been to ceaselessly accuse crane operators of causing millions of dollars in losses for those who own and control the construction projects due to their work stoppage. This media pressure to blame and attack the workers and their unions for defending their rights and dignity and causing delays must not be permitted to pass.

The police powers and mass media are exerting extreme pressure on crane operators to "accept" the new regulations without further resistance. They are being told to accept the bogus explanations and the Couillard government's "independent committee" and stop any resistance, or face even greater state-organized repression. How will this help resolve either the dangers posed to health and safety or the problem of governments which think they can trample democratic principle and get away with it? One hopes all the unions would make statements against this modus operandi. As for the political parties in the Quebec National Assembly, without exception they have bought into the nonsense that the workers' demands cause the problems on construction sites. It is not acceptable.

This media pressure and the consensus in the National Assembly to blame and attack the workers and their unions for defending their rights and dignity and causing delays on important projects and damage to the economy must not be permitted to pass. Many have denounced the media's role by pointing out the irony of a government citing concern with cost overruns on construction projects. Such delays and cost overruns are commonplace in an industry known for collusion, and even corruption between government and construction monopolies, resulting in huge profits for the private interests in control.

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The Ugly Face of "Risk Management"

Quebec Premier Couillard, speaking in Washington, DC about the new regulations imposed on crane operators, said, "It's something that's there to simplify the construction industry, in a good way. There is no evidence that there is any impact on the safety of people. Over time, we will see if the issues they have described actually occur." With this he has raised the ugly face of "risk management" as a mantra of the anti-social offensive of the rich. They introduce anarchy coupled with violence. They endanger the lives of all with their destructive neo-liberal frenzy to seize what belongs to the workers by right and say the "risks" are acceptable. A criminal logic indeed.

Only the ugly anti-social interests of the rich speak in this way, as if human beings are pieces in a casino stock market whose lives are subjected to the risks managed to profit a few parasites. In the twenty-first century, above all else the active and conscious participation of those who do the work is necessary in determining proper working conditions.

The Lac-Mégantic train tragedy, whose fifth anniversary the country is marking, was a result of risk management in the name of profit and productivity. The issues workers constantly raise are ignored until disaster strikes. Couillard is doing just that, but it will not do. The working class must come together with one voice to intervene and force the government and Quebec Construction Commission to reverse the untenable position they have put crane operators into with this dictate and police powers.

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Workers Support Quebec Crane Operators

Workers' Forum has received expressions of support from workers for the Quebec crane operators in their struggle to defend their rights. This includes the basic right to healthy and safe working conditions and for their work to be carried out in the strictest conditions with regards to the safety of the public.

A mechanic from the trucking industry tells us:

"It's clear to me that the government is using the pretext of a labour shortage to reduce the hours of training for crane operators. That's too simple. If the government is allowed to get away with this pretext with the crane operators who could stop them for using the same pretext against other workers? If there is a shortage of manpower, then we have to deal with it, but this is not the way. How can measures such as lowering safety standards be an acceptable way to increase the number of crane operators? According to this logic, there can be a double standard, two categories of crane operators, two levels of training, depending on the availability of labour! It does not make sense. There must be the highest standards at all time and under all circumstances, not just when it suits employers!"

A worker in the food industry told one of our journalists:

"I find the silence of the Labour Standards, Pay Equity and Workplace Health and Safety Board (CNESST) disturbing. How can a government institution whose purpose is to ensure workplace safety be silent on this issue? Is this a sign of a stranglehold of the Liberal government on the Board? If so, these government institutions no longer have any independence from the executive branch and the political party in power and that is really disturbing. Which public body will defend us now? The government wants to give private companies all the power to regulate everything and the public authorities refuse to play their role. It's a serious problem."

The following comment came from a Canadian Pacific worker:

"What's going on really does not make sense. We have to find a way to stop them. Here, at Canadian Pacific, in the rail industry, health and safety standards and training are deteriorating very quickly. I am the perfect example. Just a few months ago, I was a clerk responsible for responding to intermodal truckers who came to bring their containers to our terminal. I was sitting behind a computer. Now, CP management is using new technology that allows truckers to do the job themselves. So I was moved into the yard to drive the huge hydraulic cranes that stack the containers and load the trains. I received minimal training and this training took place in the circumstances of restructuring of the company and an increase in volume at the terminal because of the economic boom. My stress level is still very high despite all the help I get from my colleagues who are more experienced than I am. I cannot tell you the number of mistakes I have made or about the perilous situations that could have put the lives of workers at stake. I know people who used to work in various jobs who have been transferred to work as locomotive engineers, imagine. Big companies like CP have become so powerful that not only do they treat us like this, but they dictate what governments should do. We have to find a way to stop them."

This comment came from a trucker:

"We truckers have a long history of corporate training. It can be summed up in a few words: 'You are on your own!' I am serious. In the field of transportation for the last several decades people have been told to learn on the job. If an accident occurs, you are blamed for having done something wrong, for not following procedures. Most companies believe that if we have a class one license, that is the class required to drive all heavy vehicles, we are supposed to know everything. That's far from being the case. The variety of conditions and multiple transport companies, not to mention the type of transport, makes each situation different. There are no mandatory minimum standards for truckers. The courses offered in subsidized private schools, which provide a full five-month course, are not mandatory. I attended a small 12-hour course in an unsubsidized school and my start in the profession was very difficult. When you are employed by a company and you ask for a minimum of training, you are read a procedure that you must sign and that is supposed to mean that you have been trained. We are considered responsible for our safety because we have read and signed a piece of paper. That's not what I call training. I wholeheartedly support the crane operators. We must not retreat even an inch on our health and safety. We workers want to defend the highest standards and we all take that responsibility as seriously as the crane operators do. We must resist in every way we can government or corporate attempts to make decisions that concern us and put us at risk."

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Salt Mine Rally in Goderich

Community Barbecue and Rally Supports
Striking Salt Mine Workers

A community barbecue and rally was held on June 28 for the 350 striking workers at the Compass Salt Mine in Goderich, Ontario. The rally took place at Harbour Park overlooking Lake Huron from where massive lake freighters deliver the mined salt to much of the Great Lakes region. The workers who are members of Unifor Local 16-0 have been on strike since April 27 over the company's demand for concessions and onerous overtime conditions, which the workers have refused to accept. Local civic officials and community members came out to show their support for the striking workers. Several busloads of Unifor members and retirees from across the province travelled to Goderich to express their solidarity.

Compass Minerals, a large supranational corporation headquartered in the "right to work" state of Kansas bought the mine -- the largest salt mine in the world -- in 1990. It boasts a daily production of 25,000 pounds of road salt, which is stockpiled for anticipated demand during winter.

Union representatives at the rally noted that Compass Minerals declared a stock dividend of $90 million recently and its CEO receives about $3.5 million per year. Unifor 16-0 points out that the U.S. corporation is seeking to make overtime mandatory up to 70 hours per week along with other concessions, some of which are even in violation of the current Employment Standards Act. In addition to opposing concessions, workers demand the appointment of a full-time safety representative to deal with the unacceptable level of accidents at the mine, including a fatality.

The speeches at the rally denounced Compass for bringing in scab mercenaries from as far away as New Brunswick to keep the mine producing during the legal strike. Unifor announced a President's Conference at the Unifor Education Centre in nearby Port Elgin where discussions will be held on how to deal with the company's anti-worker activity and to plan actions to intervene in the strike on a province-wide basis. The union is considering mobilizing its flying squads to put an end to the use of scabs to prolong the strike.

For further information read the May 22 article in Workers' Forum "Compass Mineral Workers in Goderich, Ontario, on Strike against Anti-Worker Concessions."

(Photos: Unifor)

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Lockout Reaches Five Long Years

United Steelworkers Local 1005 Holds Picket
at MANA Gates

At 5:00 am on June 29, members of USW Local 1005 and their supporters brought their banners and flags to the MANA gates to mark the fifth anniversary of being locked out by the German company Max Aicher North America (MANA) in June 2013.

U.S. Steel sold MANA its bar and bloom mill in 2010. The provincial and municipal governments along with the media praised this as a boon to the local steel industry and economy. However MANA subsequently stopped production in September 2011 and by December 2012, it had laid off the entire work force. It then demanded unacceptable concessions during contract negotiations, including a 30 per cent wage cut, no cost-of-living allowance and the replacement of the defined benefit pension plan with a defined contribution plan. The workers turned down the offer by a vote of 73 per cent and another offer by 86 per cent. MANA then locked workers out in June 2013. In January 2015, it began running the mill using scabs. The courts issued an injunction limiting the time the workers could delay the scabs from entering the plant, but the entire anti-worker bias of the government, courts, media and even educational institutions such as Mohawk College which has been providing scab labour, remains in place.  

MANA bought the plant. It knew what it was getting. Despite this it is permitted to deprive workers of their livelihood and the blame falls on the workers! All they have to do is accept slave conditions and they can work, the argument goes. It is good for the economy because the owners can make super profits, the argument goes. It is outrageous!  It is high time the argument that Ontario is open for business and the workers of Ontario be damned has got to go.

Workers' Forum salutes the MANA workers and considers their stand to be very courageous. For five years, day in and day out, they have persisted in fighting for the justice of their cause in a manner which upholds the dignity of labour against all odds. They have defied the attempt of ruling elites to trample their rights into the mud and get away with these anti-worker stands with impunity. They bring honour to the  Ontario and Canadian working class.

It is a courageous united stand that deserves the unstinting support of all workers and collectives of workers. Congratulations to all the workers at MANA and USW Local 1005 who persist in upholding the dignity and rights of labour!

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