Week 11 of Windsor Salt Strike: Teachers and Education Workers Step Up Their Support

Week 11 of Windsor Salt Strike: Teachers and Education Workers Step Up Their Support

As the strike at Windsor Salt now enters its 11th week with negotiations ongoing but moving slowly, support continues to grow for the workers and their cause, especially amongst active and retired teachers and education workers whose pension fund is implicated in the strike through its investments in the owners of Windsor Salt, Stone Canyon Industries Holdings Inc. (SCIH). The stepped up support for the striking workers comes on the heels of the Annual Meeting of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan at which the provincial president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association and the President of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation District 9 of Windsor-Essex both expressed the demand that the Pension Plan stop going against the values of teachers and education workers concerning workers’ rights with its investments. The response of the Plan’s president that they could not do much despite even having a seat on the company’s management board is clearly not being accepted.

On April 24 a joint letter was sent to SCIH from the Presidents of five Teacher and Education Worker unions in Windsor-Essex, most of whose members pay into the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan. Those signing were: Erin Roy of OSSTF, District 9 President, Mario Spagnuolo of ETFO Greater Essex President, Jody Meloche OECTA Secondary and Occasional President, Adriana Palamides OECTA Elementary and Occasional President and Mike Hinch AEFO Unité 63. Copies were also sent to the unions’ Provincial Executives that represent them on the Ontario Teachers’ Federation (OTF), expressing the unified stand of the unions that their Pension Plan must make a contribution to affirming workers’ rights in their community and that claims that it is just business as usual are not acceptable.

The letter from the Presidents states: “It is our understanding that the commitment to bargain with the labour union representing the workers (Unifor), in good faith, is hollow and that the intended goal of the company is to outsource the work to contract companies. The refusal to bargain unless deep concessions are agreed to is counter to how the bargaining process works.

“As representatives of education labour unions in the Windsor-Essex community, we stand with the workers of Windsor Salt. We are also representatives of teachers in our community and our pension plan (the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan) is a large investor in the company that owns Windsor Salt.

“Our members do not want their dollars to be used to harm neighbours in our community. We have all voiced concern to the OTPP and will continue to do so. The OTPP is one of the largest pension plans in the world and is supposed to uphold ethical and social justice investment practices that align with the values of the members who they are entrusted to represent.

“As labour leaders who stand united with the workers of the Windsor Salt Company, we ask that the company get back to the bargaining table, in good faith, to bargain a fair collective agreement.”

On April 24 a delegation of retired teachers and education workers, members of the Windsor – Essex chapter of Ontario Secondary Teachers’ Federation Active Retired Members (OSSTF-ARM) joined Windsor Salt workers on their picket line. Given that many members of ARM are also members of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, the organization’s executive decided to make a financial donation and to make their concerns known about the use of their pension funds in this way and to issue a statement.

At the line, Bruce Awad, president of ARM Chapter 9 and a former governor of the OTF which co-sponsors the plan on behalf of Ontario teachers, presented the workers with a $500 donation to their strike fund along with a copy of the letter the group sent to the head of the Teachers’ Pension Plan calling on it to use its influence with the U.S. owners to negotiate with the workers in good faith towards a collective agreement they can accept instead of trying to break their union.

The letter from the retirees to the Pension Plan’s President and CEO Jo Taylor reads:

“ARM Chapter 9, Greater Essex (Active Retired Members of OSSTF) represents many retired teachers and education workers in Windsor and Essex County, many of whom are members of the OTPP.

“On February 17 members of Unifor locals 1959 and 240 who work in the salt mine, evaporation facility and offices of the Windsor Salt Company in Windsor were forced to take strike action after the company’s U.S. owners, Stone Canyon Industries Holdings Inc. refused to even begin negotiations unless they agreed to the contracting out of their work and other unacceptable concessions. The company is known to be working with a U.S. law firm that specializes in ‘union avoidance’ and has been engaged in what can only be called union busting as, despite finally agreeing to engage in negotiations with the unions, it has continued to try and break the strike using provocative tactics and continuing to insist that the workers accept the contracting out of their jobs.

“We and the entire labour movement in our communities and beyond know that the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan is a key investor in Stone Canyon, even having one of its asset managers sitting on the holding company’s eight-member Management Board.

“Over the years as active members of OSSTF we fought tooth and nail in defence of our rights and for the rights of all workers in Ontario against successive Ontario governments. Teachers and education workers today are having to do this all over again against the Ford government which is going outside the constitution to try and dictate and not negotiate. We cannot now be silent when our pension monies are being used by an anti-union U.S. company to attack Canadian workers and their unions right under our noses in our own community where Windsor teachers led the fight in the 1970s for union rights!

“OTPP’s investments in Stone Canyon are not ‘leaving a lasting, positive impact on the world,’ which is a stated aim of our pension fund. It is deliberately harming the future of our friends and family members at Windsor Salt that it has forced to fight for the very existence of their union! We call on everyone who can to speak out now to help bring Stone Canyon into line so that it stops its union-busting activities in Canada and starts engaging in serious negotiations with the workers’ unions aimed at reaching a collective agreement acceptable to both parties. I would appreciate a response as to what you and the OTPP could do to encourage Stone Canyon to stop the anti-union tactics and instead bargain in good faith.”