POLITICS

Premier 'very concerned' about nasty labour lockout at London locomotive plant

01/05/2012 01:23 EST | Updated 03/06/2012 05:12 EST
WATERLOO, Ont. - Premier Dalton McGuinty is offering his help to resolve a nasty labour dispute at a locomotive plant in London, Ont.

Electro-Motive Canada locked out 420 workers on Jan. 1 after making a take-it-or-leave-it offer that the union says included a 55 per cent wage cut and other concessions.

Electro-Motive is owned by heavy equipment giant Caterpillar Inc. (NYSE:CAT) through its Progress Rail subsidiary.

McGuinty — whose Liberals hold several seats in the city — said Thursday he's "very concerned" about the dispute, although he's not familiar with the specific demands.

"It's a really tough time to lose a job, because there aren't a huge number that are being created at this point in time," he said after promoting his government's new tuition rebate at Waterloo's Wilfrid Laurier University.

Ontario is still the "fastest growing job producer" in Canada, but it's not easy to find a new job, he quickly added.

"My expectation is that both sides will try to moderate their tone, find a way to come together," McGuinty said.

"We're prepared to offer whatever mediation resources that we can to bring people together and keep them at the table, and to find a way to come to some kind of an agreement that keeps those jobs and keeps that industry in that community."

Rookie New Democrat Teresa Armstrong, who represents the riding of London-Fanshawe, said there's "no fairness whatsoever" to the company's offer.

"It's a slap in the face to the workers," she said.

"It's a community that's being affected because these workers and their families are struggling right now to try to keep their jobs and get a fair deal from Caterpillar, which has made profits from these workers working so hard," she said.

The federal Conservatives aren't commenting on the lockout at the plant, which Prime Minister Stephen Harper once used as a backdrop to tout business tax breaks.

Harper visited the plant in March 2008 to showcase a $5-million federal tax break for buyers of the diesel locomotive-maker's wares and a wider $1-billion tax break on industrial capital investment.

Ken Lewenza, the president of the Canadian Auto Workers union, has called on Harper to stand up for workers against what he calls unreasonable, aggressive demands by Caterpillar.

But spokespeople for both Harper and Labour Minister Lisa Raitt say they don't comment on the actions of private companies.

Last year, Raitt intervened when privately owned Air Canada was at war with its unionized workers last year. But her spokeswoman Ashley Kelahear said the Electro-Motive dispute is a matter of provincial jurisdiction.

The dispute at Electro-Motive should give McGuinty second thoughts about handing out corporate tax cuts with no strings attached, Armstrong said. The NDP have long advocated that any cuts be tied to job guarantees.

A spokeswoman for Economic Development and Innovation Minister Brad Duguid said there's no record of provincial government funding to Electro-Motive.