Fleet, Workers Headed For Labour Board

Mediation talks aimed at reaching a severance settlement for the workers have failed and the union is preparing itself for a full-blown hearing before the board, Julius Antal, president of the International Association of Machinists Local 171 told The Review, Sunday.

Antal characterized mediation meetings held in recent weeks as "terrible" and said the decision to break off talks came when the company tabled a "final" proposal offering the workers 25 per cent of the severance the union believes its members are entitled to under provincial labour regulations.

"At that point we stated that we will no longer need to talk, we'll just go ahead with the charges before the (labour) board," Antal said.

The union has charges pending before the board, accusing the company of bargaining in bad faith and attempting to deny its members full severance.

The hearing before the board hasn't been scheduled, but it's expected to take up to 20 days for both sides to present their cases, Antal said.

A company spokesman could not be reached for comment over the weekend. It has been the management's policy throughout the strike to decline media comment about the state of negotiations.

The strike began Oct. 1. On Feb. 13, Fleet's parent company, Magellan Aerospace Corp., announced plans to close the 73-year-old Gilmore Road plant, which manufacturers parts for a variety of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. The company blamed the strike for financial losses at Fleet and an erosion of customer confidence.

In late March, the company officially terminated 325 workers, then slowly started recalling them to work during the close-out period - “the time it will take the company to wind down operations in Fort Erie."

Union leaders refused to disband the picket line, saying to do so would compromise the union's ability to negotiate a close-out agreement with the company. More than 50 workers, who weren't recalled by the company, are taking turns picketing and they'll keep walking the line at least until the conclusion of the labour board hearing, Antal said.

"We're not abandoning the picket lines," he said. Antal estimates as many as 40 replacement workers are still employed by the company and are working side-by-side with union members.

After more than nine months of turmoil, the workers have mixed feelings about their current situation, Antal said.

"People are angry that the company has not at least offered them the severance that they feel they deserve," he said. "They're glad that they're working, that they're bringing home a paycheque again, but the only reason they're in there right now is they're trying to work for their severance.

"The (workers) feel they have a better shot at the severance if they continue to work."