Salt Workers Strengthen their Resolve to Stand Against Union-Busting
The strike at Windsor Salt in Windsor, Ontario is now entering its 15th week with all indications that negotiations between the company and the unions — Unifor Locals 1959 and 240 — are not progressing. Windsor Salt’s owners continue to come and go as they please, flaunting that they are in charge. If their message is that the workers have no choice but to agree to whatever they are demanding or they can walk the picket lines until the cows come home, the workers are not impressed. In a show of strength, the company is bringing trucks in and out of the evaporation plant but the workers are reliably informed that these trucks are for show. They carry little to no product in or out of the plant.
On May 31, the contract of U.S. salt workers at Morton Salt in Silver Springs, New York expires. The salt workers in Canada are fully aware that the company may use this to threaten either contingent of workers that they better settle or their counterparts at other plants will be getting lots of overtime to make up for the interruption of production in either plant. The company has not withdrawn its demand that the workers submit to permission to contract-out and changes to contract language that will degrade the workers’ union.
Windsor Salt and Morton Salt are both owned by U.S.-based Stone Canyon Industries Holdings Inc. Morton Salt’s anti-union lawyer either quit or was fired from the notorious anti-union law firm Jackson Lewis sometime in March, but has been brought on at Morton Salt to run their union-busting “in-house.” At one point this lawyer claimed that he could not negotiate while the company was engaged in training managers in mine rescue to keep production going. Most recently, the company said they couldn’t negotiate while it investigated an alleged incident at the plant which it insinuated the workers were involved in, offering a $50,000 reward for information.
From the get-go, the modus operandi of the company and its lawyer has been to use any excuse to intimidate, pressure and bluff. They seem to think that the workers and/or their union will give up their resistance to union-busting through contracting out. It hasn’t worked yet and the more experience the workers get with it, the more inoculated they become to the company’s antics.
The workers directly verified that the private investigators (PIs) hired, by nobody knows who for sure, to “investigate” an alleged assault the company states took place at the mine and dangle a $50,000 reward for information, were in fact a mechanism to intimidate and test the morale of individual workers. Workers report that in some cases when the PIs have visited homes and found no one there, they have not returned to do their “investigation.” In other cases, they have “visited” workers more than once, probably to sow doubt in their integrity or intimidate them. The workers are clear that based on the actions of the PIs, that if they were in fact hired by the company, either directly or indirectly through another party, it would amount to strike-breaking and strike-related misconduct, which is illegal. They are also aware that the company has no legal right to hand over workers’ addresses to a third party for the purpose of strike-breaking. To do so violates Canada’s privacy laws.
Workers have engaged with the PIs to tell them that they should be investigating the company if they want to know what happened in the alleged incident. When that happens, most often, the PIs have asked no further questions. In at least one case, when the PIs were told to investigate the company, they said that it was not the first time they had been told that! This reflects the unity of the workers in rejecting efforts to paint them as thugs in an attempt to divide their ranks and undermine the strike.
The company’s stage-managed shenanigans would be laughable if its approach and aim were not destructive to Canada’s economy and its work force. Workers have been out of work for 100 days, deprived of their wages while the company is spending millions on 24/7 security guards, surveillance and to pay for empty transport trucks and over a hundred millions dollars are estimated to have been lost in production. All of this money is spent to break the union instead of expanding production according to the permission it has received from the City of Windsor for more brine wells and a new level to the rock salt mine.
The workers inform that the company continues to build the expanded brine wells by bringing in the important steel pipes this requires. In the opinion of several workers spoken with on the picket lines, this indicates that the company does want to expand production. They are nonetheless clear that the intention of the company has nothing to do with producing salt but to break the union so that they can do whatever they wish. The workers also point out that with the way laws in Canada are skewed to serve the interests of the rich, it is quite possible the company will write off any losses from the strike to get tax breaks!
Salt workers report that they are coming to the conclusion that governments at all levels must be held to account for their silence which emboldens the company. They must also be impelled to intervene to limit the destructive activities of the company, rather than the ability of the workers to stop strike-breaking activities on the part of the company.
Discussion on the picket lines is very vigorous. Besides other matters of concern, workers and members of the community and fellow workers from other sectors of the economy are constantly discussing their working conditions and how to deal with the neo-liberal anti-social offensive. In the case of the salt workers, discussion also centres on how to defend their interests until they are back at work and when they are back at work. They report that prior to the strike, the company used overtime as a way to avoid hiring new workers. Shortly before the strike, when the workers had a sense something was up, they started limiting overtime to prevent the company stockpiling salt to be used against them in the event of a strike. Workers are also realizing that overtime has become prevalent — used especially during the pandemic when it was on an emergency basis — and that it is not acceptable that it be permitted to become the new normal. More workers should be hired who can join the union in all sectors of the economy, they say, including education and health care.
Salt workers are clear that the company wants to address the shortfall in workers not by hiring more unionized workers, but through contracting out work. The company self-servingly justifies this by claiming that the workers either don’t have the sufficient skill set or there are not enough “available” workers or the extra workers are not required enough of the time to warrant hiring full-time workers. If the company does not win on contracting out, it can still abuse overtime by penalizing workers in various ways if they refuse overtime. The workers are recognizing that it is important for them to organize how overtime is done so that it cannot be used against them, at the expense of their families as well as their health and safety. Like all workers, they want to have sustainable and stable working conditions that expand employment and contribute to a safer working environment for everyone.
The discussions on the line and the experiences with the PIs show that the workers have confidence that their stand to defend their union is the right one. Their conviction is strengthened as they come to terms with the refusal of the company to respect them and their work and instead treats them with contempt, as if they are disposable. They are clear that their security lies in defending the rights of all, not in letting the arrogant U.S. owners of Windsor Salt dictate their lives.
- Ontario Labour Relations Act, 1995
Strike-breaking misconduct, etc., prohibited
78 (1) No person, employer, employers’ organization or person acting on behalf of an employer or employers’ organization shall engage in strike-related misconduct or retain the services of a professional strike breaker and no person shall act as a professional strike breaker.
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1),
“professional strike breaker” means a person who is not involved in a dispute whose primary object, in the Board’s opinion, is to interfere with, obstruct, prevent, restrain or disrupt the exercise of any right under this Act in anticipation of, or during, a lawful strike or lock-out ; (“briseur de grève professionnel”)
“strike-related misconduct” means a course of conduct of incitement, intimidation, coercion, undue influence, provocation, infiltration, surveillance or any other like course of conduct intended to interfere with, obstruct, prevent, restrain or disrupt the exercise of any right under this Act in anticipation of, or during, a lawful strike or lock-out. (“inconduite liée à une grève”)