Salt Workers Oppose Divide-and-Rule Tactics

Salt Workers Oppose Divide-and-Rule Tactics

Workers indicate that contract negotiations at Windsor Salt have come down to two major issues at the rock salt mine: 1) union time – meaning the company’s demand that the union’s ability to represent its members be weakened; and 2) job classifications and seniority to determine who is able to do what jobs. It looks like the company has not pursued its demands on these matters to the same extent, or has dropped them, in its negotiations with workers at the evaporation plant.

There are a relatively large number of job classifications at the mine compared to the evaporation facility. The workers say that the company may use that as a way to increase management rights to determine such things as who goes and who stays in the event of a layoff. For example, should the company decide to restructure the workplace by removing or merging some jobs to create new ones, management can undermine seniority as a deciding factor and determine who is retained for the new positions and who is declared “redundant.”

Besides attacking a fundamental union principle, the workers see this as a clear attempt to divide them by getting one unit to settle so that the two workplaces do not fight as one. They are having none of it. The fact is that, irrespective of their job classifications or workplaces, the salt workers have become one force during the strike and will not permit their ranks to be divided.

Prior to the strike, workers at the mine and the evaporation plant did not know one another, or much about each other’s working conditions or processes of production. The strike has ended this. The workers from both operations walk each other’s picket lines and have become aware of their working conditions as a whole, including the clerical and laboratory staff who work in both facilities. This is one important achievement of this strike.

July 18, 19 and 20 have been set as days for the unions and the company to meet with a government-appointed mediator in Toronto. Both parties agreed to the mediation. According to the Ontario Labour Relations Board, “Mediators are not adjudicators; they do not decide the case. Nor do they represent or advise any of the parties. Mediators are professional neutrals with extensive backgrounds in labour relations and employment law. They have considerable knowledge of all Board practices and procedures. Their role is to help the workplace parties reach a settlement of the application. During mediation, they may refer to existing case law as it relates to the issues in dispute in order to assist the parties in realistically evaluating their positions and assessing any settlement offers. Mediators do not give legal advice.

“In order to encourage frank and open discussion between the workplace parties, mediators consider everything said during the mediation to be confidential. The mediation process is separate from any hearing which may result in the application. Mediators do not give their file or notes, or any documents they receive, to the Board in the event of a hearing. Parties are required to bring all their documents and witnesses to a hearing [in the situation where the mediation is related to a complaint to the Labour Board – WF Ed Note], as if the mediation had never taken place.”

Given the company’s ongoing attempts to impede the union’s ability to function and to undermine existing seniority provisions, the workers are clear that the company has not given up its attempts to break the union. They are under no illusions that a mediator will stop the company either. They know that to date their resistance to dictate has provided a way forward and this is what is guiding them as they enter this next phase of their strike.