In the News June 17
Three Month Lockout at Lachine, Quebec Rolls-Royce Canada Plant
Firmly Support the Workers’ Fight for the Dignity of Labour and the Rights of All
Frédéric Labelle is the President of the Rolls-Royce Canada Workers’ Union (CSN)
Workers’ Forum: The 530 blue collar workers at Rolls-Royce Canada in Lachine have been locked out since March 15. Can you tell us first how long the plant has been in existence and what work the union members do?
Frédéric Labelle: The plant has been in production since 1947, just a few years after the war. I represent the blue collar workers at the plant. We do maintenance on business aircraft engines such as the Global Jet. Our main customer is Bombardier. There used to be about 1,500 workers in the plant, but now we are about 950, of which about 530 are blue collar workers, about 100 are white collar workers and the rest are part of management. The company called the lockout while we were in a membership meeting to seek a strike mandate to strengthen our actions. We had no intention of sending out a strike notice and going on strike at that point.
WF: What are the highlights of the conflict?
FL: The non-monetary part is settled. There are still two issues, the pension fund and wages, which are linked.
What the employer is trying to do is eliminate the defined benefit pension plan for everyone and put us all on a defined contribution plan. The mandate that our members have given us, since day one, is to get everyone back into the defined benefit plan. We have an orphan clause in our agreement that includes about 50 people on defined contributions, while about 450 members are on a defined benefit plan.
Since the beginning of the negotiations, the employer has been telling us that it’s not a question of money, but that it’s a question of the image of the corporation worldwide. That’s because we are the only plant that has maintained the defined benefit plan for so long. The company’s image argument doesn’t stand up. We’ve been fighting for our rights for 400 years in Quebec, we won’t give up for the image of a corporation!
The company is also offering us two years of wage freezes, with inflation at seven per cent! We would be at zero per cent for each of the first two years, which is completely unacceptable to our members.
Over the past two years the situation has deteriorated and become very tense. The workers have an average of 15 to 20 years of seniority. These are workers who have had good years at Rolls-Royce but things have deteriorated in recent years.
Any concern for families and the personal lives of the workers has completely disappeared. The company is only concerned about money now. Everything is focused on the shareholders.
Plus, we’re in the middle of a labour shortage. They are having trouble recruiting. Our argument is that the defined benefit pension plan will keep workers at the plant and attract qualified workers.
The last time we met with the employer was May 16. The employer’s offer presented to us on May 11 had been rejected by 94 per cent of the workers. We then returned to the company and the union lowered its wage demands and proposed an increase in workers’ contributions to the pension fund to maintain the defined benefit plan for all. We have made a move and we are waiting for the company to respond.
We are asking for a seven-year contract which would expire five years from now because the current contract expired in March 2020.
WF: In your communiqués, the union denounces the intimidation by the company against the workers. Can you tell us more about this?
FL: Relations are tough because the company has attacked the workers a lot, even on a personal level, by sending bailiffs to their houses, by giving formal notices to individual workers.
When we started our actions, we began picketing in front of the houses of the managers who make the decisions at the bargaining table. We were served with an injunction granted by the court limiting this picketing to three people from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. We were expecting this. It was not a surprise for us.
But it goes beyond that. For example, we organize activities to bring our members together, to keep people motivated. We held a BBQ in a public park that is more than 10 metres from a supervisor’s house but is on the street where the supervisor lives. [The injunction prohibits picketing within 10 metres of a manager’s home – Ed. note]. He didn’t like it and filed a complaint with the court saying we were violating the injunction. About a week ago, the company took 150 of our members, including my entire executive, to court for contempt of court. On June 10, our CSN lawyer entered a plea of not guilty for the 150 members.
All of this is going to make it very difficult when we go back to work.
WF: Is there anything you would like to say in conclusion?
FL: In our opinion, our fight is historic and noble because it affects all workers in Quebec, not just Rolls-Royce workers. All the aerospace companies and the big plants will follow Rolls-Royce’s example if we don’t win this fight for our demands. They will try to eliminate the defined benefit pension plan. We invite everyone to come out and support us on the picket lines.
(Workers’ Forum, posted June 17, 2022)