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October 4, 2018

Workers Across the Country Fight for Their Rights

Workers from Across Canada Help
D-J Composites Workers in Newfoundland Block Entrance to Scabs

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Workers block scabs at D-J Composites, September 29, 2018.


Workers Across the Country Fight for Their Rights

Workers from Across Canada Help D-J Composites Workers in Newfoundland Block Entrance to Scabs
Quebec Liquor Board Workers Vote for New 18-Day Strike Mandate
Railway Workers' Fight for Their Health and Safety and that of the Public
Ontario Injured Workers Decry Measures Taken on Their Backs

For Your Information
Reverse WSIB's Premium Rate Reduction for Employers - Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups
Workers' Organizations Denounce Premium Reduction


Workers Across the Country Fight for Their Rights

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Rally at D-J Composites, Sepember 26, 2018.

Since September 26, hundreds of union activists and supporters have turned the tables on the managers and scabs at a Gander Aerospace facility where 30 Unifor members have been locked out by the U.S. owners since December 2016. Hundreds of activists from across Canada have surrounded the building and erected a temporary fence to keep scabs and managers from returning to work. The union is also running a social media campaign and newspaper ads, asking the public to write and call the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador to intervene to force D-J Composites to sign a contract that is acceptable to the workers. On October 3, Unifor announced that D-J Composites has consented to binding arbitration to resolve the lockout after a meeting with the Premier of Newfoundland-and-Labrador Dwight Ball.

"We are so happy to see the support shown by union members across the country who have come to Gander to stand with us," said Ignatius Oram, Unifor Local 597 Unit Chair. "This American employer thinks they can bust the union, but we won't ever quit."

D-J Engineering, based in Kansas, U.S., owns D-J Composites. It has been found guilty twice by the Labour Relations Board of bad faith bargaining and ordered to stop its attempt to eliminate seniority-based rights at the plant, but it has refused to abide by the rulings of the Board and the provincial government has done nothing to force the company to do so. These are clear union busting tactics, the workers are saying, which must not pass.

D-J Composites' "offer" is aimed at eliminating seniority, gutting wages and dividing the workers.

"As workers we have made it clear from the beginning that we are not prepared to turn over control of our wages to the employer through a proposed pay system that creates wage uncertainty, and opens the door to potential wage cuts on an annual basis." Oram said. "In addition, the company had made clear, they intend to lay off up to a third of the workforce, but has refused to identify who would be laid off. It is ridiculous to expect a worker to cast a ballot not knowing if you will have employment under the company's offer."

The owners are refusing to discuss with the union. Instead, D-J Composites turned to the courts. Using an  injunction obtained in 2017 they are demanding that the courts again prevent picketers from blocking access to the plant.

Workers are determined to force the company to sign a collective agreement that shows them the respect which is rightfully theirs.



Hundreds of workers and 1,000 feet of fencing erected by the union, surround D-J composites
plant, preventing scabs  from entering.

(Photos: Unifor)

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Quebec Liquor Board Workers Vote for
New 18-Day Strike Mandate

Over 2,500 retail and office workers at the Quebec Liquor Board (SAQ) held a general membership meeting on September 28, at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal. They voted 96 per cent in favour of a new 18-day strike mandate to be used when the union deems necessary. They are demanding that those in control of the SAQ sign a collective agreement acceptable to those who do the work.

Workers previously voted for a six-day strike mandate and have so far used five of those days. The new strike mandate was approved following a negotiation blitz with SAQ executives which ended in failure.

The workers' demands include an across-the-board wage increase necessary to reach a modern standard and an end to precarious working conditions. Close to 70 per cent of the 5,500 SAQ workers are stuck in part-time irregular work, sometimes with only a couple of hours of work per week. They are often only notified of their schedules at the last minute.

Workers are particularly angry at the company's wage offer that does not even compensate for concessions the SAQ executives have already demanded, leaving workers in poverty and without the dignity they deserve. The arrogance of the corporation is such that instead of addressing the central issue of irregular work and poverty wages, they want to intensify the attack on workers' stability and peace of mind with increased weekend shifts.

The present collective agreement expired on March 31, 2017, yet those in control of the company want only to delay and pressure workers into accepting even worse working conditions under the threat of privatization. The new 18-day strike mandate expresses the resistance of the workers and their determination to have an agreement that addresses their demands.

The workers are also clear that the threat of the Liberal government, which was defeated in the October 1 election, to hand over SAQ profits to private interests, will be taken up in earnest by the new party in power, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ). SAQ executives are now using the election results to power yet again the threat of privatization to force the workers to capitulate.

The 18-day strike mandate is a just rebuttal of this intimidation. It expresses the workers' determination to improve their working conditions on the basis of an acceptable collective agreement.

(Photos: CSN)

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Railway Workers' Fight for Their Health and Safety
and that of the Public

A train derailment near Ponton in Northern Manitoba has killed a conductor and left a locomotive engineer with life-altering injuries. Through their defence organization, the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC), railway workers are demanding the Chief Medical Examiner of Manitoba call a coroner's inquest into the September 15 tragedy.

On that day a Hudson Bay Railway (HBR) train, operated by two TCRC members, encountered a track failure resulting in the derailment of the leading locomotive, other locomotives and several rail cars. The conductor, aged 38, and the 59-year-old locomotive engineer survived the initial crash but were trapped beneath hundreds of tons of wreckage. As a result of the crash, the train, carrying liquefied petroleum gas, was leaking diesel fuel from the locomotives.

The TCRC reports a most troubling fact. A helicopter crew coming to pick up a prospector discovered the wreckage of the train entirely by chance several hours after the derailment. No one at HBR knew anything about the derailment until the fluke observation by the helicopter crew. Hours after the accident, with the workers pinned in the rubble, no one was coming to help them or even aware that they needed rescuing.

Only after the helicopter crew notified firefighters and other first responders did they arrive to do their best to save the two injured men. Firefighters were limited by their rescue equipment which is not designed to extricate people trapped in hundreds of tons of steel. Sadly, the conductor died at the scene. The locomotive engineer was eventually cut free from the debris and taken to Winnipeg in critical condition with life-altering injuries.

The TCRC suggests beaver activity may have led to the track failure. Water buildup from beaver dams is known to weaken railway tracks causing derailments. The TCRC pointed out that the previous owners of HBR, the U.S. monopoly Omnitrax, eliminated the beaver control program. Omnitrax is notorious for creating havoc in Northern Manitoba by shutting down the port in Churchill and refusing to repair the only rail link to the south after it was seriously damaged in spring floods.

Omnitrax recently sold HBR as well as the Port of Churchill to a consortium called Arctic Gateway. The TCRC is calling on the new owners to join them in demanding a coroner's inquest into the September 15 derailment.

The TCRC states in a letter to the Chief Medical Examiner:

The people living in the communities we serve need to know trains are being safely conducted through their towns and villages. Railroaders -- the members we represent -- need to have a fundamental faith in the integrity of the rail system. They need to know that they can depend on the track actually being there. The families of these workers need to know that too.

The work that railroaders do is not simple; there are incredibly long hours and it is a dangerous profession. Our members, their families and the communities they serve need to know that when something goes wrong, people will know and help will be on the way.

A proper investigation is needed to shine a light on the circumstances leading to the conductor's death and engineer's serious injuries. This would include the failure of the track and the lack of a credible way of knowing immediately that an accident has occurred. The rail workers themselves, and the communities they serve, are most precious and deserve answers. The root cause of this tragedy must be found and corrected.

(Photo: Transportation Safety Board Canada)


Ontario Injured Workers Decry Measures
Taken on Their Backs


Injured workers picket Workplace Safety and Insurance Board AGM, Toronto, September 26, 2018.

Since a new Ontario government took over, it has declared Ontario "Open for Business." This is the slogan first adopted by Mike Harris in 1995 when the anti-social offensive was unleashed with a vengeance provoking a fight-back led by the unions across the province.

On September 26 the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) in Ontario used this direction set by the new government to announce that it had eliminated its "unfunded liability"[1] ten years ahead of schedule and that, therefore, employers would receive a massive on-average 29.8 per cent reduction in their premiums starting in 2019. This means more than $1.5 billion less going into the compensation system yearly to provide benefits for workers injured or made ill at work.

The Labour Minister asserted that this move is part of the government's plan to lower taxes. It is "part of our plan to lower taxes, reduce the regulatory burden, protect and grow jobs, and send a message to the world that Ontario is open for business," Labour Minister Laurie Scott declared. This is an irresponsible statement given that the WSIB is not funded through tax dollars but through employer contributions. It is part of a historic compromise whereby workers gave up the right to sue their employers for workplace injuries in return for a public system of compensation funded through employer contributions.

The Ontario Network of Injured Workers' Groups (ONIWG), is demanding that the cuts to premiums be reversed and that instead the money be used to properly compensate injured workers who have been unjustly denied or cut off benefits in the drive to eliminate the "unfunded liability."

The OFL, CUPE and other unions have also spoken out against the employer rebates pointing out the money should remain in the system to ensure the program adequately provides injured workers with the compensation they require. This must include covering the more than one-third of workers in Ontario employed in workplaces that are not currently covered by workers' compensation.

Despite the "unfunded liability" which has been presented as an issue since the mid 1980s, from 1996-2001, Mike Harris' Progressive Conservative (PC) government reduced employer premium rates by 30 per cent. During the same period the government was cutting employer contributions. Its 1997 changes to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, among other things, reduced wage loss benefits to injured workers by five per cent and WSIB contributions to permanently injured workers' pensions by 50 per cent, and cut the cost-of-living adjustment.

Since that time the compensation program has seen repeated cuts and reductions to payments for injured workers under both Liberal and PC governments. All of these governments have operated the WSIB under the same neo-liberal mantra, which is that employers can't be forced to pay the full cost for the injuries caused in their workplaces because this would make them globally uncompetitive.

The concerted drive to reduce the board's liability began in 2010 under Liberal appointee David Marshall, the board's president between 2010 and 2015, following a 2009 caution contained in the report of the provincial auditor that the WSIB should deal with its $11.4 billion accident fund shortfall. It is the injured workers who have bourn the burden of eliminating the "unfunded liability," while employer contributions continue to be reduced -- a further 10 per cent in the last few years alone.

In 2010, the WSIB issued compensation benefits to injured workers in the amount of approximately $4.8 billion. By 2017 that figure was cut to $2.3 billion. A 2017 report by the Industrial Accident Victims' Group of Ontario found that the WSIB had reduced the amount it spent on prescription drugs for injured workers by one-third between 2010 and 2015. The study also found that already low acceptance rates for permanent injury claims dropped by a third, from 9.3 per cent to 5.9 per cent over the same time period.

The Ford government's cuts to WSIB premiums are a glaring example of the government's neo-liberal austerity agenda to pay the rich while cutting funding to social programs. This must not pass! The demand of injured workers and their organizations is that employer's rates not be reduced and that the money go instead to justly compensate all those injured and made ill at work, as is their right. It is a just demand. The fight of injured workers is the fight of all Ontario workers.

Justice for Injured Workers!
Stop Paying the Rich, Increase Funding for Social Programs!
Workers' Comp Is a Right!

Note

1. The "unfunded liability" was itself a bookkeeping fraud used as a phony justification for cuts to injured workers' benefits. It is based not on workers' compensation as an ongoing social program but on an insurance industry model. Private insurance companies are prohibited from having an unfunded liability in case they go bankrupt but the WSIB is not a private insurance scheme. It has a legally-guaranteed revenue source in the form of employer premiums.

In briefs to Harry Arthurs' 2012 WSIB Funding Review, injured workers' organizations and other workers' organizations dismissed as nonsense the notion that the WSIB benefit obligations need to be funded on a 100 per cent wind-up basis. They pointed out that the Canada Pension Plan is said to be financially sound, even though its obligations are only 28 per cent funded and it has an unfunded liability of more than $700 billion.

(Photos: ONIWG, Rank and File)

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For Your Information

Reverse WSIB's Premium Rate Reduction
for Employers

TORONTO, Sept. 28, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) The Ontario Network of Injured Workers' Groups (ONIWG) calls on the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) and the Ford government to reverse the $1.45 billion dollar gift to Ontario employers, and instead put that money towards restitution for injured workers who have been unjustly denied or cut off benefits. The 30 per cent reduction to employer premiums announced on Wednesday [September 26] means less revenue coming into the system, and will inevitably lead to a further reduction in compensation provided to workers who have been injured and made ill on the job.

"Injured workers have already borne the burden of paying off the WSIB's manufactured financial crisis," said ONIWG President Willy Noiles. "Since 2010, compensation benefits provided to injured workers have been slashed by over $2 billion. Almost half of injured workers with a permanent disability are living at or near poverty levels. And now that the WSIB is happy with its financial picture, instead of restitution, the Ford government and the WSIB have decided to become 'reverse Robin Hoods' and reward employers."

ONIWG has alerted the Ford government of its Workers' Comp Is a Right campaign. The campaign is based on ensuring that the WSIB listens to injured workers' own doctors, eliminates cuts due to so-called "pre-existing conditions," and eliminates the practice of "deeming." This is a bureaucratic practice of reducing or ending benefits to the injured by pretending that they are well or have more income than they actually have.

"With this campaign and the Real Healthcare campaign, injured workers are reminding the Ford government that workers' compensation is a right," said Noiles. "It is not charity or a 'burden' on employers or the province. The rate cut announcement is making a mockery of the historical compromise at the root of our century old system of protection to workers. Ontario's 'government for the people' has ignored some of the province's most vulnerable."

Injured workers are offended by the idea that condemning injured workers to poverty will boost the economy of Ontario. More poverty means more mental stress, and more economic and social disruption. ONIWG calls on the Ford government to reverse this "gravy train," and ensure that the WSIB's strong finances be put to proper use -- to compensate all those who have been made to suffer by the Board's austerity measures.

For further information, please contact: Willy Noiles, 289-219-4473 or visit injuredworkersonline.


(Photos: ONIWG)


Workers' Organizations Denounce
Premium Reduction

In response to the announcement by the Ontario government that employer WSIB contributions will be reduced in 2019, the President of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), Chris Buckley stated "The WSIB has eliminated its unfunded liability largely at the expense of benefits to injured workers, ... Today's announcement of an additional cut of nearly 30 per cent to employer premiums will further negatively affect injured workers -- that far too often struggle to access the benefits to which they are entitled." A September 26 OFL press release further stated that this action by WSIB "has the potential to further polarize relations between employers and workers in Ontario, instead of fostering cooperation on the prevention of workplace injuries and diseases, and the sustainable re-employment of injured workers." It calls on the Labour Minister "to ensure that every worker in Ontario has universal access to workers' compensation and to ensure that the prevention of occupational injury, illness and disease receives the critical attention and funding required to build safer workplaces."

Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario stated "For too long Liberal and PC governments alike have failed to support injured workers with an adequate workers' compensation system,... Benefits paid out to injured workers have been on the decline for years. Far too many injured workers are being denied access to benefits of any kind or aren't even covered by WSIB in the first place. Thousands of injured workers are now living in poverty in Ontario. Ford is simply speeding up the Liberals' work on reducing support to injured workers."

"This is not about saving taxpayers money," said Hahn. "It is about a government reducing the responsibility of employers for supporting workers who are injured on the job, forcing the publicly funded health care system and social services to pick up the slack. Rather than letting employers off the hook for their responsibilities, the government should make sure the WSIB covers all Ontario's workers and is able to effectively support injured workers for generations to come."

(Photos: ONIWG)

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