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article imageElectro-Motive workers give union a strike mandate Special

By Ken Wightman     Dec 30, 2011 in Business
London - With a vote of 404 to nine, Electro-Motive workers gave their union a solid strike mandate should the company attempt unilateral changes to the existing terms of employment.
The present contract expires midnight Saturday. When plant chair Bob Scott was asked what happens next, he refused to hazard a guess. Others have not been so cautious. They envision the company either locking out the workers or demanding that they work at half pay with reduced benefits. The demands would, of course, lead to a strike.
The Electro-Motive Diesel (EMD) plant has operated in London for more than a half century. The company is major employer in a city suffering some of the highest unemployment numbers in Canada for a city its size. EMD was known as a good place to work: past tense.
Scott recently confirmed to Digital Journal that the company's latest offer would slash wages to $16.50 from $35 an hour. Benefits would also be cut, and pensions were on the table. It was not so much an offer as a gauntlet thrown down by EMD owner Progress Rail. With Friday's vote, the workers have accepted the challenge and countered with their own.
Until 2005, EMD was a division of General Motors. At that time, GM sold EMD to a pair of private-equity firms for $201 million. Under the guidance of the private-equity owners, Electro-Motive had sales of $1.8 billion in 2009. With the company financially healthy, the investors sold the entire U.S./Canadian operation in 2010 to Progress Rail Services, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Caterpillar Inc., for $810 million.
Special  high-priced  security guards with cameras record images of all who get too close to the Ele...
Special, high-priced, security guards with cameras record images of all who get too close to the Electro-Motive plant grounds.
Caterpillar is known for its union breaking expertise honed battling its own workers on its home turf about two decades ago. Progress Rail is essentially non-union.
Progress Rail has rebuilt a large, former transformer plant in Muncie, Indiana to build EMD locomotives. The first locomotive to come off the line was unveiled in late October. Progress Rail owns the Muncie operation and it appears is building the EMD branded locomotives on behalf of their subsidiary. If work was to be transferred from London to Muncie, Progress Rail would encounter no union opposition.
It is looking bad for a local plant that Prime Minister Stephen Harper once used as the backdrop for a photo-op. The PM toured the plant and briefly chatted with some of the 900 employees then employed there.
Then it came time for Harper to make his scheduled announcement on his government's efforts to make Canadian manufacturers competitive in a global marketplace. The London Free Press reports Harper proclaimed, "Ontario is the heart, it is still the engine of the Canadian economy. There's no reason the Ontario economy can't be as strong as the economy in any other part of this country." To spur growth, a $1-billion tax break for Canadian industry was announced.
If the Electro-Motive story plays out as poorly as many believe, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be looking for a new photo-op back-drop in London. A deserted factory, devoid of workers, will not convey the right message --- but it would be an accurate one.
The Electro-Motive Diesel plant is down for the holidays. Will it re-open on schedule?
The Electro-Motive Diesel plant is down for the holidays. Will it re-open on schedule?
More about Progress Rail, Caterpillar Inc, ElectroMotive Diesel
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