Crown Holdings, one of the world's largest manufacturers of food and beverage containers, is using its corporate might to create an underclass of young workers at its Toronto factory. After doubling its profits in 2012 to more than $200 million, the US-based company is still trying to force a permanent 42 percent ($9 per hour) pay cut for new hires at its Weston plant.
The brazen attempt to force employees to work for less is part of a broader trend of employers pushing two-tier agreements at the bargaining table. After seeing these kinds of agreements in place in the United States, employers across the Canadian manufacturing sector - and now at Air Canada and Canada Post - have been pressing younger workers to settle for lower wages and fewer benefits. Two-tier agreements mean that all employees hired after a certain date never have access to the same pay, benefits or working conditions as their co-workers doing the same job.
In Ontario, young workers already face many challenges in the labour market, including record-high tuition fees and levels of student debt, unemployment rates more than double those of the general population, and high levels of underemployment. At the same time, austerity measures have gutted public services and social programs, such as Employment Insurance and Old Age Security, leaving young workers facing the spectre of a longer working life with less support for themselves and their families.
Crown Holdings' demands forced the workers at the Weston plant to take strike action in September. By making progressively worse proposals, the company has now dragged out the dispute for more than six months. It's a slap in the face for the high-performing workforce that was given an award in 2012 for its excellent productivity, efficiency and safety record. The reckless attempts to drive down wages come at a time when the company is not only profitable but could afford to give CEO John Conway a whopping $12 million compensation package.
On March 24, the Toronto workers voted 117 to 1 against the agreement currently on the table and have demanded that the Ontario government step in to help resolve the dispute.
For 120 workers at one Toronto plant, taking on a giant corporation in order to defend the next generation of workers is a commendable but difficult task. It is a fight that they cannot win alone, one that demands new and creative tactics.
This is why workers across the province are coming together to do their part. Today, the Ontario Federation of Labour, which represents over one million workers from 54 affiliated unions, is joining the 500,000 member Congress of Union Retirees of Canada and the 195,000 member Toronto and York Region Labour Council in boycotting Carnival Cruises. It is an attempt to target Carnival CEO Arnold Donald, who is also a key member of the Crown Holdings board of directors and compensation committee. The boycott will put pressure on Carnival at a busy time of year for travelling and is one part of the broader campaign to get Crown Holdings to offer their Toronto workers a fair contract.
Two-tier agreements like the one Crown Holdings is pushing at the bargaining table are fundamentally unfair, undermining the right to equal pay and benefits for equal work and creating divisions in the workplace. Recognizing these tactics for what they are, people across the province are standing with the workers at the Weston plant.
As the low-wage agenda pursued by Stephen Harper, Tim Hudak and others proposes to slash labour laws and undermine workers' rights, employers are becoming emboldened to drive down wages. Even while profits soar, corporations such as Crown Holdings are trying to force workers to work for less and accept a lower standard of living through unabashed demonstrations of greed and power at the bargaining table.
Ontarians are rejecting these divisive tactics and standing together to demand decent jobs and fair wages for Ontario workers. By expanding organizing rights, supporting the next generation of workers and investing in our communities and job creation, Ontario can reject a race to the bottom and set out on a path towards shared prosperity for all.
Follow Sid Ryan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SidRyan_OFL