Salt mine strik­ers’ bet on block­ade may pay off


For 10 weeks, they walked picket lines in of­ten swel­ter­ing heat, watch­ing re­place­ment work­ers go into the Goderich salt mine and do their jobs. But the strik­ing Uni­for mem­bers went for broke last Fri­day and piled up bar­ri­cades of wooden pal­lets, later re­placed by trac­tors, in de­fi­ance of two court or­ders. It’s a gam­ble that ap­pears to have worked. Com­pass Min­er­als and Uni­for Lo­cal 16-0 re­turn to the bar­gain­ing ta­ble to­day, hop­ing to end a strike that threat­ens to stran­gle the econ­omy of the town of 8,000. Stephanie Ross, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at McMaster Uni­ver­sity’s School of Labour Stud­ies, said the work­ers had “no choice” be­cause On­tario law lets com­pa­nies use re­place­ment work­ers. “Re­place­ment work­ers are an enor­mous tool that em­ploy­ers can use to starve the work­ers out,” said Ross, not­ing union lead­er­ship could have been ar­rested for de­fy­ing a court or­der. But Ross said the Goderich strik­ers have one big ad­van­tage: “The com­pany can’t move the mine, the work can’t go any­where.” That’s in con­trast to the 2012 clos­ing of Lon­don’s Elec­tro-Mo­tive Diesel plant, where work­ers were locked out by Illi­nois-based Cater­pil­lar and the work later moved to In­di­ana, Ross said. Uni­for’s Natalie Clancy said the union is ob­serv­ing a me­dia black­out dur­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions. But Uni­for held a free com­mu­nity con­cert and bar­be­cue at the picket line Wednes­day night fea­tur­ing a striker’s blue­grass band. A kid-themed event goes Fri­day.

“In Uni­for, we are a fam­ily and our mem­bers have ral­lied around this group and this com­mu­nity be­cause of the enor­mous pres­sure they have been un­der,” said Scott Do­herty, ex­ec­u­tive as­sis­tant to na­tional pres­i­dent Jerry Dias.

Com­mu­nity sup­port has been key for strik­ers in a town where the salt mine is the largest em­ployer.

Many homes in the com­mu­nity sport lawn signs back­ing the strik­ers, and a Uni­for pub­lic rally and bar­be­cue in Har­bour Park June 28 drew about 500 peo­ple. Huron County War­den Jim Ginn said the strike has been a sore point in the com­mu­nity since the salt is con­sid­ered a lo­cal re­source.

Kansas-based Com­pass Min­er­als brought in re­place­ment work­ers from as far away as New Brunswick, mean­ing all the money from pro­duc­tion was leav­ing the town.

Com­pass Min­er­als is­sued a state­ment Wednes­day ap­pear­ing to de­fend its move to­ward a new “con­tin­u­ous min­ing model” that has been at the heart of the bar­gain­ing im­passe. The union says it will mean longer shifts, more over­time and more con­tracted­out work.

The state­ment im­plied the mine’s fu­ture is in doubt if the op­er­a­tion does not be­come more ef­fi­cient and com­pet­i­tive.

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