CAW President Calls for Ontario to Modernize Labour Laws to Prevent Another Caterpillar

February 29, 2012, 1:55 PM EST

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CAW President Ken Lewenza is calling on the province of Ontario to modernize its labour laws to better adapt to the current economic reality in light of the Caterpillar lock out and closure, in a letter sent to Ontario Labour Minister Linda Jeffrey this morning. 

The union is calling for rules around first contract interest arbitration to be adapted and applied to other collective bargaining disputes; giving the Ontario Labour Relations Board the power to expedite interest arbitration in the case of a lengthy breakdown; applying provisions of previous collective agreements in the case of a lockout then closure; lengthening the notice period for mass termination and increasing severance, among other changes to the Ontario Labour Relations Act.

"Governments must now move beyond words and give serious consideration to the role of Ontario's labour laws in this tragic situation: how they must be improved to avert similar outcomes and strengthened to better protect workers from the devastating effects of workplace closures," Lewenza writes.

Lewenza said that multinational corporations are able to exploit weak legislation to easily buy up other companies, take what they want and close up shop at little cost and with few barriers - all to the detriment of Ontario workers and the communities where they live.

Lewenza said that Caterpillar, who owns Electro-Motive Diesel in London, used the province's labour laws to its advantage. "Caterpillar did not misjudge or misinterpret Ontario's labour laws; rather, they understood them all too well, and exploited the laws' weakness as a key part of their overall strategy," Lewenza writes.

"In the wake of the Caterpillar tragedy, it's time that greater balance is restored, better rules are established and stronger tools are placed at the disposal of government to settle these types of labour disputes."

Lewenza is also calling for Minister Jeffrey to immediately establish an Industrial Inquiry Commission to investigate the experience at Caterpillar, a rarely used measure provided for under section 37 of the Ontario Labour Relations Act.  The commission would then make recommendations to the minister on how to proceed in the future in other cases.

"London Electro-Motive workers, their families and the thousands of workers whose livelihoods were dependent upon supplying the facility will pay the price for this failure of policy for a long time to come," Lewenza writes.

The CAW is calling for a number of changes and improvements to current legislation, including:

  • Strengthening requirements for the parties to bargain in good faith, including improving the tools available to the Ontario Labour Relations Board. The law pertaining to first contract interest arbitration should be adapted and applied to collective bargaining disputes that follow a first contract.  If after 45 days following a No Board Report, collective bargaining has reached an impasse due to the failure to make reasonable efforts to reach a collective agreement, the board should then be able to expedite the settlement of a collective agreement through interest arbitration.
  • Creating new provisions to prevent employers from evading contract obligations by precipitating a lock out. Provisions in the previous collective agreement must apply, in the case of a lock out, once the closure is announced.
  • Banning the use of replacement workers.
  • Restoring the requirement that employers negotiate adjustment plans in mass terminations and closures - which would remove the incentive to cause a lockout.  Parties should also be provided with interest arbitration in the negotiation of adjustment plans.
  • Significantly lengthening the notice period for mass termination and providing a minimum of two weeks' severance pay per year of service, accrued from the first year of employment.  The 26 week cap should also be removed.

To read the full text of the letter, please click here.

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