March 17, 2023 - No. 14

Windsor Salt Strike Enters Fourth Week

National Union President Sends Letter to Teachers' Pension Fund


Striking Windsor Salt workers and supporters on the picket line, March 3, 2023. (Unifor)

Negotiations Set to Resume

 Salt Miners' Defence of Health and Safety a Matter of Life and Death Jeopardized by Contracting Out

Mine Rescue: Vital to Workers' Health and Safety

About Ontario Mine Rescue

Role of Ontario Courts in Assisting U.S. Hedge Fund to Destroy Canadian Union

Self-Serving Arguments to Justify Company Abuse



Windsor Salt Strike Enters Fourth Week

National Union President Sends Letter to
Teachers' Pension Fund

Unifor President Lana Payne issued the following letter via e-mail to the Board of the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan on March 14, 2023. The letter has been published on Unifor's website for public information. For further background on OTPP's investments in Stone Canyon click here.

SUBJECT: WINDSOR SALT LABOUR DISPUTE 

Greetings,

Unifor is Canada's largest private sector union representing 315,000 workers nationwide in every major sector of the economy, including mining. As you may be well aware, 250 members of Unifor Locals 240 and 1959 working at the Windsor salt mine and evaporation plant have been on strike for four (4) weeks now. Stone Canyon Industries Holdings (SCIH), which acquired Windsor Salt in 2021, has refused to return to the bargaining table and discuss any financial matters unless its workers accept onerous concessions, including the contracting out of union work.

Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan (OTPP) is in fact one of Stone Canyon's key investors and its significant purchases of SCIH equity offerings over the past few years have allowed the industrial holding company to expand its footprint into the salt industry where its subsidiary, SCI Salt, currently controls the lion's share of the market outside of China. Ashfaq Qadri, a managing director at OTPP, sits on Stone Canyon's board of managers.

Unifor shares with OTPP the philosophy that responsible pension investing must include stewardship meaning active engagement and oversight over portfolio companies to promote positive change. As one of the world's biggest institutional investors safeguarding the pensions of tens of thousands of unionized workers, OTPP has the power to ensure that the companies it invests in behave responsibly, particularly when it comes to respecting labour rights.

To put it bluntly, the behaviour of SCIH in this labour dispute has not lived up to the OTPP's responsible investing principles and violates environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards, as clearly laid out in the OTPP Responsible Investing Guidelines. As you know well, one of the primary determinants of the social factor is a company's ability to build a positive relationship with its employees, which does not begin with a refusal to bargain unless workers accept painful concessions.

Unifor therefore calls on the OTPP to uphold its responsible investing and stewardship principles by using its influence to demand that SCIH return to the bargaining table without pre-conditions. No investment can be responsible unless workers' rights and the collective bargaining process are given their due respect.

I trust that you understand, from this letter, the high level of concern we wish to communicate. I am available should you wish to discuss the matter directly with me.

Yours truly,

Lana Payne
National President

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Negotiations Set to Resume

On March 16, Unifor Locals 240 and 1959, which represent the workers at Windsor Salt's two operations in Windsor, Ontario, issued a joint statement with Windsor Salt announcing their return to bargaining on Wednesday, March 22.

According to the statement, the company and the union engaged in informal discussions about a pathway back to the bargaining table over the last 24 hours. As a result, "they both agree that a return to the bargaining table is in their best interests, and they are optimistic that they will be able to reach a collective agreement that is fair and equitable to all parties involved."

The workers are pleased that negotiations will resume, but they are concerned about the almost six-day delay between the announcement and the resumption of talks. They suspect that this delay is due to the company having to bring in their U.S. lawyer from the union-busting law firm Jackson Lewis which is leading the negotiations. They believe this shows the company's continued arrogance in dealing with their livelihoods.

Despite their concerns, the workers hope that their efforts and the support they have received from their community and other members of the labor movement in Canada have convinced the company and its owners Stone Canyon Industries Holdings Inc. to negotiate in a manner that respects the workers and their union, rather than engaging in union-busting tactics.

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Salt Miners' Defence of Health and Safety a Matter of Life and Death Jeopardized by Contracting Out

One of the major issues striking miners at Windsor Salt are raising in relation to the demand by the new owners, Stone Canyon Industries Holdings, to contract out work and attack their union's ability to function, is related to health and safety. The miners note that the work they do can be very dangerous if proper standards of health and safety -- which have been worked out during the 130 years of salt mining operations in Windsor -- are not upheld. It is the workers, through their union, that uphold such standards day-in and day-out because their lives rely on them. For example, workers explain that when there is blasting taking place to loosen the salt, everyone -- except those doing the blasting and mechanics who are a large distance away -- are not permitted to be underground. There are systems in place to ensure that everyone is out of the mine before any blasting happens. 

The workers uphold these standards as a matter of pride to keep themselves and their co-workers safe. This is but one example and workers are clear that it is in part these types of safety standards that the company wants to attack, reduce, or even eliminate, to cut costs in the hopes that they can then flip the operation to another buyer for a quick buck.

Attacks on health and safety standards in the mines take the form of bringing in contract labour that can be hired or fired on the whim of the owners with no job security or legal standing from which to stand up for themselves and their co-workers in an organized way. These attacks also take the form of the company's demand to reduce or eliminate paid union time where workers can do union business. All of this is to weaken and eliminate the organized voice of the workers, through their union, and their ability to uphold the standards and conditions they have given rise to through their work over the 130 years of operations that has been passed down from one generation of worker to the next.

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Mine Rescue: Vital to Workers' Health and Safety


One of the volunteer Mine Rescue teams from Windsor Salt Ojibway Mine came first at the 70th annual Ontario Mine Rescue Provincial Competition in 2019.

An example of the expertise mine workers have built up in health and safety that serves the entire mining industry is that of mine rescue. Striking salt miners in Windsor, Ontario explain that they have nearly five mine rescue teams, made up of volunteers, who work at the facility. These workers get mine rescue training and then become part of the province-wide Ontario Mine Rescue (OMR), which is called into action anywhere in the province if there are mine disasters or emergencies of different kinds. OMR maintains and equips a network of mine rescue stations around Ontario, which are funded with an annual levy from mining companies.

In March 2022, the Ontario government, through the Ministry of Labour, held a consultation on improving mine safety. At that time they noted that: "Rescue work is some of the most labour-intensive and dangerous in the mining sector and is often done in conditions that are 'immediately dangerous to life or health.' As mines get deeper and move further from the shaft or when companies explore new sites and mines, they create greater safety risks for emergency responders, which must be taken into account in emergency planning."[1]

The Ministry noted that "Mine rescues in Ontario are conducted by volunteer emergency responders who require a high level of fitness, support and knowledge." OMR requires responders to have annual physical examinations and clinical testing to assess their fitness. All OMR team members are required to have a minimum of standard first aid to assist with injured workers. Many have advanced first aid training. Responders may be involved in rescue and/or recovery operations. Responders are involved in the recovery of miners killed on the job. In one example, mine rescue workers from the Windsor Salt mines were part of teams that were sent into Goderich's salt mine after a tornado hit the mine leaving one worker dead. The teams from out of town were brought in so that the worker's colleagues did not have to extricate their comrade's body. This is more significant when one considers that the owners of the salt mining industry are in competition and the Goderich salt mine is a major competitor of the Windsor salt mine. The workers explain that they don't see life in this way; that they are all miners who look out for one another and operate together in mine rescue and won't let themselves get pitted against one another.

Turning back to the situation at Windsor Salt, OMR coordinators have decided that the Ojibway mine cannot be operated as the company wants during the strike, because amongst the managers the company is using to try to maintain production underground, it does not have enough trained mine rescue workers. This shows that despite its best wishes, the company does not base its actions on what is safe or not nor the standards that exist, but rather on what they can get away with. In this case, they have not been able to get away with mining as a result of the standards that exist and, in this case, are being defended. It reaffirms the importance of the stand the workers are taking in rejecting the company's demands to dismantle their union. They know that it is they and only they who can be relied on to operate the facilities safely.

Note

1. Emergency response and mine rescue, Province of Ontario, March 1, 2022.

(Photo: Workplace Safety North)

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About Ontario Mine Rescue

Ontario Mine Rescue provides the following information about its role and history:

"In Ontario, the law requires that every underground mine establish and maintain a mine rescue program. Each underground mining operation is required to also establish and maintain a detailed emergency response plan. Ontario Mine Rescue (OMR) is such a program for the province of Ontario. It is a part of Workplace Safety North (WSN) and operates under the authority of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Headquartered in Sudbury, OMR staffs, equips, and maintains a network of mine rescue stations across the province that ensure mines within a specified geographic area have adequate emergency response capability.

"Mine Rescue Stations in Ontario are currently located in: Delaware, Wawa, Kirkland Lake, Onaping, Red Lake, Sudbury, Thunder Bay."

According to a 2021 news release from Ontario Mine Rescue, 900 men and women across the province were serving as active Ontario Mine Rescue volunteers at that time. The program is funded by the government and has a technical advisory committee made up of representatives of the mining industry. At that time, there were 40 active mining operations in Ontario, most of which are in northern Ontario.

History of Ontario Mine Rescue

"Ontario Mine Rescue was born out of the tragedy of the Hollinger Mine fire that claimed the lives of 39 miners in Timmins in 1928. Neither the mine, the town or even the province had the expertise or the resources to respond to save their lives or adequately fight the fire. Mine rescue teams from Pittsburgh had to be called in to extinguish the fire, while recovery operations were left to local mine management.

"The resulting provincial royal commission recommended the creation of an Ontario Mine Rescue organization under the Department of Mines to respond to underground mine fires. Over the past 90 years, Ontario Mine Rescue has evolved as lessons learned from mine rescue operations provided valuable insight for future endeavours.

"The 1947 East Malartic Fire marked a major turning point for Ontario Mine Rescue as teams from Timmins, Kirkland Lake, and Sudbury responded to a call to help fight a mine fire in Malartic, Que. It was the first and only time Ontario Mine Rescue teams responded to an out-of-province emergency. While working together, it became evident each district had different training and maintenance standards. As a result, the position of Senior Mine Rescue Officer was created to ensure province-wide standards in mine rescue training and equipment maintenance were established and maintained.

"In 1965 another mine fire in Timmins, this one at the McIntyre Mine, forced the organization to make another change. The underground distance rescue teams had to travel to reach the fire was so great that the two-hour McCaa [breathing] apparatus was not sufficient to allow them time to fight the fire. In 1966, after investigating and testing different apparatus, the BG174 was purchased to allow for a four-hour capability. The BG174 proved a workhorse for almost 40 years before it was replaced by the BG4.

"Ontario Mine Rescue took on added responsibility in 1984 after four miners were trapped and killed in a rockburst at Falconbridge No. 5 Shaft near Sudbury. The Stevenson Commission recommended that the organization's mandate be expanded to conduct training in and respond to non-fire emergencies. Training on non-fire rescue equipment began shortly after.

"In January 2001, responsibility for Ontario Mine Rescue was transferred to the Mines and Aggregates Safety and Health Association, now a part of Workplace Safety North (WSN). The program was modernized with state-of-the-art equipment including the Drager BG4 self-contained breathing apparatus. Standardized competency-based training programs were developed to ensure consistent delivery of information to mine rescue teams across the province.

"These and other developments have made Ontario Mine Rescue a role model for the establishment of training and safety programs for mine rescue organizations in other provinces and countries."[1]

For 73 years, Ontario Mine Rescue hosts a provincial competition to ensure that teams are on the same page and ready to do their duty to the highest standards.

Ontario's mine rescue competition is designed to simulate a complete incident response with numerous integrated tasks. A competition includes team preparation and team briefing, followed by solving a complex incident that will typically include triage, the use of special equipment and firefighting.

Note

1. Ontario Mine Rescue 

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Role of Ontario Courts in Assisting U.S. Hedge Fund to Destroy Canadian Union


Striking salt workers and supporters rally at Windsor City Hall, March 16, 2023.

The role the courts play in Canada on the side of narrow private vested interests always contradicts what is said about the courts, which is that they are neutral and that their role is to make sure the cause of justice is served. Life shows that it is not the working people who define what it means to serve the cause of justice. This was proven once again on March 6, when Justice Ian Leach of the Superior Court of Ontario renewed an interim injunction, which he had originally issued on February 28, to prevent striking workers from stopping Windsor Salt and its new owners, the U.S. hedge fund Stone Canyon Holdings Inc. from removing stockpiled salt from its operations in Windsor, Ontario. It is a blatant example of the court intervening on one side of a dispute in a manner that shifts the balance of power to the side that represents private vested interests, against the other, labour. Labour is the part of the equation that creates the wealth the private vested interests expropriate in the first place and it is labour that is defending itself so that the workers can work and live in dignity.

Striking workers block shipments going out from Windsor Salt, February 23, 2023.

Prior to the court injunction, the workers had not permitted the removal of stockpiled salt because of the experience their colleagues in Pugwash, Nova Scotia had with the company which used stockpiled salt to prolong the strike and get the workers to accept concessions. An aim in seeking an injunction is to intimidate the workers because they will be criminalized if they persist in defending their interests by stopping the removal of the stockpiled salt. It is also to force the police -- another body said to be neutral -- to do "their duty" and more strenuously impede the workers from stopping the trains and trucks removing the salt. The conception that the courts and the police would be doing their duty if they defended labour does not enter the thinking that guides the legal system. This is why that thinking and the arrangements called liberal democratic institutions need renewal so that their aim is determined by the working people according to their vision of a society that harmonizes individual and collective interests within the context of society's general interests.

The long-winded rationale given for the extended injunction appears to have made it more specific and proscribed by limiting the pickets of striking workers to stopping vehicles for 15 minutes. Fifteen minutes is said to be very reasonable but it does not address why the company is shipping the salt out while refusing to engage in negotiations.

The extended injunction came into effect on March 8 for one week, at which point the company can apply to have it extended again.

On the day the injunction was renewed, a worker on the picket line made the cruelty of the injunction clear when he told CBC News: "That's a little bit more upsetting now than in the past, because we see the trucks the last couple of days are going in and loading product out and shipping the product to our warehouses, which hasn't been happening up until yesterday."

Unifor represents the Windsor Salt workers. It has made it clear that from the outset the new owners of the operations refused to talk about any financial matters (i.e. wages or benefits) unless the union allows the company to contract work in its salt operations to non-union employees. This is something that no union worthy of the name could accept. The union's national president, Lana Payne, came to the picket line to show support for the striking workers in Windsor, at which time she said: "It's a challenge because the company was purchased by a hedge fund during the pandemic, and we all know the history of hedge funds and how they operate. We're at the point right now of defending the very existence of our union in that mine." The proposals from the company, the concessions that they're talking about, "would basically potentially wipe out our membership," she said. In addition, they would potentially wipe out the health and safety and other standards that the union upholds, which the new owners want to remove so that they can rip as much value as possible out of the operations for themselves and their shareholders. These then are matters the workers are deliberating on as they work out a way forward.

(EmpowerYourselfNow.ca)

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Self-Serving Arguments to Justify Company Abuse


Windsor Salt picket line, March 1, 2023.

When Justice Leach of the Ontario Superior Court issued the injunction against striking Windsor Salt workers, his reasons focused on three main matters he said were of concern. The first was that the behaviour of certain picketers was "unlawful" in that it not only didn't permit the company agents or others to enter the facility, but that it also included trespassing and intimidation. An example he gave was the use of strobe lights on scab trucks, hired security agents or management trying to enter. According to the judge, "while picketing is presumptively legal and constitutionally protected, such picketing is impermissible where it breaches the criminal law or involves other unlawful conduct such as nuisance, trespass and/or intimidation." Again, needless to say, what is a nuisance, trespass and/or intimidation to one is none of the above to another.

The second reason the judge gave was that irreparable harm would be the result if the company was not permitted to enter the facility to take out its stockpiles and conduct other maintenance work in the facilities. This is a serious accusation because it is being given across the board every time workers or Indigenous Peoples across the country defend their rights against governments and companies that trample them in the mud and act with impunity. One would think that his rationale could better be used to provide an argument as to why the company should negotiate with the workers and settle their claims in an agreeable manner. Instead, the blame for causing irreparable harm is put on the workers whose only intention is to put pressure on the company to negotiate, not cause irreparable harm to anything. Why is the blame for irreparable harm not put on the company for refusing to negotiate? This deserves consideration.

According to the judge: "the high-pressure lines carrying brine to the evaporation plant from distant salt caverns and wells are no longer being inspected for leaks on a daily basis, and the currently uncontradicted evidence before me indicates that the potential for catastrophic environmental damage, and a related loss of the plaintiff's licence to continue such operations, (a licence necessary for the survival of the plaintiff's evaporation plant business), is very real. The irreparable harm threatened by inability to regularly and routinely inspect the relevant pipelines therefore engages not only the plaintiff's private interests, (including the risk of business loss, liability for damages in relation to any environmental catastrophe, and loss of reputation and goodwill), but also the public interest of those living in and around the affected areas who should not needlessly be exposed to the risk of such hazards."

This disingenuous presentation serves the interests of the company, presenting it as the victim -- which, to boot, is also concerned about the local environment. If the company knew that a strike would result in such problems, why then is it refusing to negotiate? Why is it issuing dictates about contracting out that threaten the viability of the union when it was clear this would result in a strike? This alone shows that the company knew or should have known what it was doing and is now using the environmental risk to try to get away with it. The workers could argue that the company should be held responsible for endangering public health for its action in allowing the environmental degradation to continue. Should the judge not also consider this when deciding such matters? If the company did not know this risk would be present, it does now and should be warned by the court to negotiate in good faith or be held responsible for endangering public health.

Later, the judge added yet another reason for which the workers will be held responsible: "imminent irreparable harm was threatened by the business interruption, and corresponding difficult-to-quantify monetary damages associated with longer term loss of market share, loss of business reputation and loss of customer goodwill, stemming from a prolonged inability to supply product from the plaintiff's evaporation plant if the plaintiff effectively is prevented from unloading the current contents of its storage silos, owing to picketers preventing requisite transport trucks from entering and leaving the property; i.e., thereby necessitating otherwise extensive and avoidable remedial efforts to recondition the silos and make them usable again once the product now contained therein cakes and spoils."

This reason merely reveals that the courts use their privileged position to spout self-serving nonsense and give it a legal stamp. The company knew all this would transpire once it provoked a strike, so to now cite it as reasons to permit the company to prolong the strike by removing its product, keeping the workers without pay and benefits, is self-serving to the extreme.

Where is the concern or even recognition for the irreparable harm to the workers and their community as a result of the loss of their livelihoods, benefits and health and safety standards as a result of contracting out?

In addressing whether the injunction would infringe on the rights of the workers the judge had the gall to say: "I found it difficult to see any meaningful inconvenience that would be experienced by those who would be restrained from further participation in unlawful nuisance, trespass and intimidation activity that has been occurring to date on the picket lines. In that regard, it should be emphasized that the injunctive relief being requested does not seek to prevent lawful and constitutionally protected rights of proper picketing. Again, picketers have legitimate and constitutionally protected rights to freedom of expression that must be allowed to continue in a reasonable manner during the course of this labour dispute. However, those rights can be protected and facilitated by the granting of injunctive relief that allows for reasonable periods of delayed entry and exit from the plaintiff's property while picketers attempt to communicate their views in a lawful and peaceful way, short of transgressing into unreasonable extended delay and/or complete obstruction of those trying to enter or leave the plaintiff's property, improper intimidation in that regard, and/or trespass."

So much diversionary talk about what is legal, constitutional and proper. Laws have been passed over the years to make sure the workers' strikes are totally ineffective in creating a power balance between a company and all its resources, on one side, and the workers' strength in numbers and organization, on the other. Under today's conditions, governments are using police powers to declare all matters that defend the rights of workers, Indigenous Peoples and others to be matters of national security and economic well-being, and the struggles of the workers are declared illegal. The situation thus calls on workers to find new ways to put the strength of their numbers and organization on the side of their just cause.

It is unfortunate that in Canada today the likes of court judges and government ministers have yet to understand that MIGHT DOES NOT MAKE RIGHT! Using the legislatures, courts and prerogative powers to pass laws and issue decrees that do not attain a result that harmonizes individual and collective claims on society and harmonizes these with the general interest of society may make them legal but it does not make them just and they are therefore repugnant.

In other words, the irreparable harm done to Canada's working people cannot be justified and the more those with power and privilege try to do so, the more vulnerable they become. Yes to negotiations! No to the court's and government's defence of impunity!

The judge says, "I found it difficult to see any meaningful inconvenience" when he talks about limiting the workers' strike actions to ineffective protest. For him, this is not even a meaningful inconvenience. For the workers, it is a matter of survival.

For the full reasons for the injunction, click here.

(EmpowerYourselfNow.ca)

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