Ross Seeley has worked at Electro-Motive Diesel in London, Ontario for almost three decades under three separate owners: General Motors, Greenbriar Equity Group, et al., and Progress Rail, a subsidiary of Caterpillar Inc. He was to retire in a few months.
Now, his retirement plans are marked with a giant question mark. Progress Rail is demanding the experienced pipefitter accept a 50 percent pay cut and stand aside while the company guts his retirement plan and eliminates all benefits.
To no one's surprise, Seeley and the other EMD workers, members of Local 27 of the CAW, balked — giving the union a mandate to strike, if necessary. The company locked them out, refusing to honour the old contract while negotiations continued. So far, only powerhouse workers have crossed the picket line.
The powerhouse supplies power and heat to both Electro-Motive Diesel and General Dynamics Land Systems. The reason for this link between two separate companies goes back to the days when both sites were but one large General Motors industrial complex. Although the powerhouse is operated today by EMD workers, there is an agreement guaranteeing power and heat to General Dynamics despite any work stoppage at EMD. The union is honouring that agreement.
Some weeks ago, powerhouse employees noticed online ads for power engineers. According to Seeley, these ads promised an hourly wage of $45 plus free lodging, free meals and free airfare to London, if necessary. The ads didn’t name the employer but it seemed clear that EMD was behind them.
The locked out powerhouse workers earned $40.50 an hour, to be cut by 15 percent to $34 under the proposed contract rejected by the union membership. Ads placed by other large industries in Ontario are offering power engineers from $80,000 to $87,000 annually depending upon the length of the work week.
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.