May Day rally supports Hamilton steelworkers
Around 100 people gathered under a Hamilton overpass on a wet Sunday afternoon to stand in solidarity with a group of steelworkers who have been locked out of their jobs for the past three years.
The rally, organized by Steelworkers’ Union Local 1005, was held at noon, across the street from the Max Aicher North America (MANA) plant at 855 Industrial Drive. Union president Gary Howe said the event was held partially in celebration of International Workers’ Day, or May Day,and partially to keep the public aware of what’s going on with the locked-out steelworkers.
“We’re just saying what’s going on here is wrong and the company should start to negotiate with the workers,” Howe said in a phone interview on Sunday. The last time the company met with the union was in 2013, and there are no meetings scheduled in the future.
MANA purchased bar and bloom mills from U.S. Steel in November 2010 and at the time, new jobs were promised for the city’s struggling steel industry. The company began laying off workers in 2011 and 2012, and in June 2013 union members voted against the companies latest offer.
In July 2013, the workers began picketing in front of the plant, demanding a better agreement. Howe said they’ve been picketing daily ever since.
“The workers haven’t asked for any gains. The company is actually going for huge concessions,” Howe said.
At its peak, there were 118 people in the bargaining unit. Now, most have retired or found other work. If a deal was struck today and the plant brought workers back, Howe said roughly 25 people would take their jobs back.
‘Now it’s revenge’
Following the event, some of those who attended the rally also went to the May Day celebration at the Workers’ Arts Heritage Centre on Stuart Street.
Rolf Gerstenberger, former president of Local 1005, was one of the people in attendance. Gerstenberger said the situation with the steelworkers is just another example of multinational corporations or governments dictating their demands rather than negotiating a fair settlement with union workers. Canada Post dealt with it, he said, and so did Air Canada.
“This is what workers are facing all across Canada,” Gerstenberger said. “Companies don’t want to negotiate.”
As long as the former MANA workers continue to picket and hold up the new workers at the gate, they’ll continue to receive strike pay of $200 per week from the union, said Gerstenberger.
It doesn’t look like either party in the conflict will come to the bargaining table any time soon.
“My view is, now it’s revenge,” Gerstenberger said. He believes the company is getting back at the workers for rejecting the second contract they offered back in 2013.
Paul Miller, New Democrat MPP for Hamilton East and Stoney Creek, also attended the rally and the gathering at the Stuart Street centre afterwards.
“I admire the people that formerly worked there for their ongoing attendance at the gate and their commitment to bringing this terrible situation to the public’s realm,” Miller said.
Miller said it was unfair for MANA to treat their employees as they did. To keep this type of situation from happening again, Miller said the province needs to reintroduce legislation to stop corporations from hiring replacement workers from outside of a union.
Company officials from MANA could not be reached for comment on Sunday afternoon.