A Significant Demand from all Ontario Teacher Unions to Their Pension Fund
On June 20, on behalf of 200,000 educators in Ontario’s publicly funded education system, the presidents of the four unions representing teachers in Ontario jointly raised their concerns over the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan’s (OTPP) major investments in Stone Canyon Industries Holdings (SCIH) in a letter to the OTPP’s President and CEO. SCIH is the U.S. holding company that has attacked Canadian salt workers and salt production in Alberta and Nova Scotia and now is doing the same in Ontario, having forced salt workers in Windsor, Ontario out on strike on February 17, 2023.
The letter states:
“We are writing on behalf of 200,000 educators in Ontario’s publicly funded education system to express our concerns regarding a troubling situation involving American-based company, Stone Canyon Industries Holdings (SCIH). Our concerns are heightened given that the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP) is a major investor in SCIH.
“As you know, SCIH acquired the parent company of Windsor Salt Company in 2020. Currently, Windsor Salt Company workers are engaged in challenging negotiations for their first contract with SCIH. The affected workers include miners responsible for producing road salt at the Windsor Salt Ojibway Mine, as well as employees at the evaporation processing plant who produce food-grade table salt.
“On February 17, 2023, miners from the Windsor Salt Ojibway Mine and clerical staff from the evaporation processing plant, represented by Unifor Local 1959 and Unifor Local 240 respectively, initiated a strike. The justified job action was in response to SCIH’s proposal to outsource union jobs. The refusal to bargain unless deep concessions are agreed to is counter to how the bargaining process works.
“As members of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and governors of the Ontario Teachers’ Federation, we strongly condemn any attempts to undermine unions or a free and fair collective bargaining process. Union-busting actions not only contradict the values of our unions, but also harm the reputation of the OTPP. Furthermore, they fail to align with the Environmental, Social, and Governance policies of the OTPP.
“Our members do not want their pension contributions to be used to harm other workers. If the OTPP is truly committed to supporting and respecting workers and their rights, including the rights to unionize, collectively bargain, and strike, it must adhere to the values of the plan and honour all stakeholders. As one of the largest pension plans in the world, the OTPP must uphold ethical and social justice investment practices that align with the values of the members whom you are entrusted to represent.
“We stand with the workers of Windsor Salt Company. On behalf of our respective members, we are asking the OTPP to join us in publicly reaffirming a commitment to free and fair collective bargaining, as Windsor Salt workers strive to reach a collective agreement that is fair, equitable, and respectful of their rights.”
Empower Yourself Now applauds Ontario’s teacher unions for taking this stand together. It is a clear indication that when it comes to the rights of workers to negotiate collective agreements acceptable to themselves and their communities, teachers stand as one and do not want their pension funds used to finance union-busting activities such as those SCIH engages in. This is all the more significant given that teachers are currently in negotiations with the Ontario government which is dictating all kinds of arbitrary changes to teachers’ and education workers’ working conditions using its majority to pass through legislation without any negotiation let alone consultation. By standing against the use of their pension funds to attack workers at Windsor Salt, teachers’ and education workers’ unions are taking a stand for the rights of all working people in Ontario.
To date the pension fund has responded to concerns on the matter raised for months by teachers and their unions, including at the OTPP’s annual meeting in April, by claiming that they do not interfere in the day-to-day operations of the companies they invest in and that they leave this to the company’s “management teams.”  This response was clearly not acceptable to the Plan’s shareholders as the letter from the teachers’ unions makes clear. The OTPP has a seat on SCIH’s eight-member Board of Managers, showing that in fact they do oversee Stone Canyon’s activities as managers. Using investments from the OTPP, SCIH has gained a monopoly in the global salt industry.
SCIH is using its monopoly to carry out plant closures as it did in Lindbergh, Alberta and to force salt workers across Canada to accept concessions as it did in Pugwash, Nova Scotia and is now attempting to also force contracting out in Windsor, Ontario. To do this it uses disrespectful and dishonourable tactics that are not acceptable to Canadians. SCIH’s ultimate goal is to try and reduce the claim of the workers on the value they create from salt extraction and processing using contracting out and other schemes all to increase their profits. Evidence of their intentions is that at the outset SCIH hired one of the most notorious union-busting law firms in the United States, Jackson Lewis, to run their negotiations with its workers at Windsor Salt as well as at Morton Salt, its parent company, which owns salt operations in the United States. Canadians want to make sure salt operations in Canada are not used to harm workers and their communities by reducing them to operations which consider the workers disposable.
The OTPP’s claim about its non-interference in companies is also contradicted when it openly says it uses its investments in fossil fuel-emitting companies to influence their operations so as to contribute to reducing carbon emissions. It cannot have it both ways.
It is high time the OTPP comes into line with the clearly expressed wishes of its shareholders and takes an unequivocal stand against Stone Canyon’s union-busting activities and disrespect for Canadian workers who provide a critical natural resource without which society could not function.