Daybreak brought the sun, a little warmth and a van carrying outside contractors to the men and women picketing in front of the Electro-Motive Diesel plant in London, Ontario.
A CAW committee member at the locomotive assembly plant, Mike Rossiter, explained, "Outside contractors are being brought in to run the powerhouse which serves both Electro-Motive and General Dynamics." At one time both the EMD plant and the General Dynamics facility were part of a huge General Motors manufacturing complex. Today the powerhouse is one of the only remaining connections between the two operations.
The white van carrying the contractors arrived at daybreak but the driver, blocked by picketers, refused to open his window or identify himself. After an hour, London police arrived but they were not satisfied with the documentation they were shown, according to Rossiter.
A security guard accompanies a van transporting powerhouse workers across the picket line set up by locked out workers at the EMD in London, Ontario.
The police stood aside. They remained at the scene but took little action other than talking with the locked out workers. The van sat motionless, its path remained blocked until it was approaching noon. Then, with all demands met, the picket line parted and the van, accompanied by a security guard, slowly entered the EMD compound.
The plant, with a staff of about 700 today, has been a fixture in east London for more than 60 years. A major employer in the London community, many fear the company wants to close the Canadian operation and move all work to a newly refurbished facility in Muncie, Indiana. The American plant is non-union, paying its workers about half of what it pays its London workers.
Early in the morning on the first day of the lock out a van approached the picket line. It carried contract workers for the EMD powerhouse, but the driver refused to talk. He refused to divulge why he was there. The van was held up for hours. Police refused to intervene when the driver could not produce the proper documentation.
It is only the first day of the lock out, but already some in the community are at the plant throwing their support behind the workers. Occupy London tents, taken down from their downtown park home some weeks ago under order of the local city council, are springing up beside the EMD fence.
Mary, no last name given, of Occupy London, said, "This [lock out] affects a lot of people. It is not just the workers, but their families and the community as well."
Mary, a graduate of Cambrian College in Sudbury, has been having a tough time in the present economic downturn. She said she is not alone. "Pretty much everyone I went to school with has had to have some retraining." She said her friends would work and then get laid off, or the company would go bankrupt, or "the pay would not be what they had expected." Some grads, she said, found themselves earning $10 an hour.
In many cases, it seems time spent in college is time wasted, according to Mary. Companies with specific, narrow needs, can hire someone with minimal education, give them minimal training designed to enable the new hires to do one specific job. And their reward? Minimal pay.
Mary has learned an education does not guarantee a job.
"I have a seventeen year old daughter," Mary says. "I want her to get an education but I worry about her future."
The workers at EMD are, in many cases, highly skilled individuals, but Mike Rossiter is finding his education counts for little in the eyes of Electro-Motive and its parent companies Progress Rail Services and Caterpillar Inc. Rossiter, now locked out, is a skilled welder with a college course in metallurgy in his resume, plus a university degree.
Rossiter, and the other locked out workers, are in for a tough fight. Caterpillar has earned its union-buster reputation. Its wholly owned subsidiary, Progress Rail, shares Caterpillar's distrust of collective bargaining. When Progress Rail posted a job opening for an HR Manager at its new Muncie assembly plant, they stipulated that the candidate should have "experience with providing union-free culture and union avoidance."