Crown Strikers Support Law Reform, Renew Customer Campaign at Labatt's
TORONTO - United Steelworkers (USW) members embroiled in a 22-month labour dispute with beer can manufacturing giant Crown Holdings are advocating for legislative changes to prevent such prolonged and devastating disputes.
USW members will attend public hearings in London on Wednesday as part of the Ontario government's Changing Workplaces Review. The review has been established to consider positive changes to the province's labour laws.
USW members will advocate for placing restrictions on the use of replacement workers during labour disputes, ending the six-month limit on the right of employees to be reinstated by their employer during a strike, and making binding arbitration available at the request of either party to settle long strikes or lockouts.
Mike Cruttenden, a 30-year Crown employee, will speak on behalf of his 120 fellow members and argue that these reforms are necessary to keep up with the growing power of corporations.
"The situation at Crown is a prime example of how our labour laws are out of step with the realities experienced by working people," says Cruttenden. "We're dealing with a corporate giant with over 140 plants worldwide and huge resources to keep us out on the street. We just want Ontario's lawmakers to rebalance the playing field and prevent the kind of suffering our 120 families are experiencing."
Since provoking the strike in September 2013 with demands for major concessions, Crown hired replacement workers (scabs) to keep producing cans and try to break the strike. Instead of negotiating a fair deal with its long-time employees, the company says it wants to prevent strikers from returning to work, a position the USW maintains is a violation of Ontario's Labour Relations Act.
In the Ontario Legislature on May 25, Labour Minister Kevin Flynn committed to strikers at Crown Holdings that his government would "get to the bottom of this (dispute) and … find a resolution that suits their needs and their desires." USW members continue to hope that the provincial government will order binding arbitration as a means of settling this strike.
At Wednesday's Changing Workplaces Review hearings in London, the union's members will encourage the Review to recommend that the government amend labour laws to provide the arbitration option for future protracted disputes.
At the same time, the union is proceeding with its complaint that Crown is violating provincial law by insisting on denying continued employment to strikers. The first hearing date before Ontario's Labour Relations Board is scheduled for today.
While awaiting the Labour Board's decision, USW members are renewing their call to the public to support them by choosing "Bottles Not Cans." Following Cruttenden's presentation, he and a group of fellow members will demonstrate in front of the large Labatt brewery on Simcoe Street and distribute leaflets urging the public not to use Crown cans. To the USW's knowledge, Labatt and its parent company, AB InBev, have continued to be a significant buyer of Crown cans over the course of the labour dispute. As part of its extensive Bottles Not Cans campaign, the USW is urging the public to avoid Labatt and Budweiser cans until the strike is settled.