Goderich salt workers ratify contract, end strike
Gary Lynch, president of Unifor Local 16-0, Glenn Sonier, Unifor nationalrep and Scott Doherty, assistant to Unifor president Jerry Dias announce the Goderich salt mine contract has been ratified. (JANE SIMS, The London Free Press)
GODERICH – The salt miners cheered when their Unifor Local 16-0 local union president Gary Lynch told them their new three-year contract was ratified.
But with immediate relief came a large dose of disappointment.
““I don't say we agree on everything, but we will be back to work,” said Lynch defiantly, standing on the back of a pickup truck at the gates of the Compass Minerals mine at the Goderich Harbour.
“Just remember all the heartache, everything you've been through. Work safe and remember, we control this place, regardless of what they say.”
The vote to accept the three-year deal brings to an end the acrimonious strike – but there are clearly hard feeling left to heal.
“This is a democratic organization and you guys have spoken and we respect your wishes,” said Scott Doherty, assistant to Unifor president Jerry Dias.
“We're going back to work with a collective agreement that we don't think is great, but we'll protect you, we'll fight for you, we're going to continue to do what we need to do.”
In the crowd, some of the 348 members who had been on strike said quietly after the speeches that they weren't happy with how they've been treated and the ultimate agreement.
“Don't forget the guys that cross the line when we were out, right? You know who they are,” one worker called out.
Some of them said their fathers and grandfathers had worked in the mine, the biggest underground salt mine in the world. They weren't happy, but wanted to get back to work.
The union would not say how many people voted in favour of the contract.
Rubbing its own salt in the wounds was the company's hiring of replacement workers from as far away as Quebec and New Brunswick. That led to an unprecedented blockade of the mine entrance, first with wooden pallets, then tractors from nearby farms.
The tough stand by the union may have been what finally brought the American mine owner back to the bargaining table.
“I can tell you that this has been a long 12-week strike and there were a lot of ill feelings on the line and people are not thrilled about going back to work, but they also recognize that the community at some point in time had to go back to work,” said Doherty.
But, he said, the pushback against replacement workers – something that was in breach of a court order to allow them into the mine – is “a huge victory for the labour movement.”
The union was buoyed by strong support from the people of Goderich, who stood by the workers during the worst of the standoff.
“We would not be here today if we didn't have the support of the community,” Doherty said.
Compass leaked the details of the collective agreement in a news release on Sunday evening, hours before the union had a chance to talk to its members.
The new contact provides three years of wage increases of 2.5 per cent, 2.5 per cent and three per cent.
There are changes to assigned work and work schedules. There were no changes to pensions and benefits..
Company demands for mandatory overtime and a 72-hour work week were eliminated.
Doherty said that while there will be some hard feelings as the workers begin to return to work on Wednesday, “they're going to do what they need to do. They are going to make this mine a productive and efficient mine and they're going to do it legally and the way we have to based on the return-to-work agreement and the collective agreement.”
Lynch said strike took “a huge toll” on the workers, some of whom had to find other jobs to pay bills and mortgages while supporting the labour dispute.
“These guys will not forget what happened, they will not forget what this company's done to them and how much they made them pay and hurt,” he said.
“I think they've created a monster here. Moving forward, I'm glad we're back to work and that's the main goal of this, but moving forward we'll see where it goes.”
What's clear is that the town remained united behind workers at the community's biggest employer. Lawn signs of support can be found all over Goderich both at homes and businesses.