Bad-ass boss vs. tough-guy union

Rating: NNNNNThere are at least 17 strikes going on in Mike Harris's Ontario right now, and this is just one.

Rating: NNNNN

There are at least 17 strikes going on in Mike Harris’s Ontario right now, and this is just one of them.

However, it’s quite an important dispute that’s taking place at Toromont Industries Ltd. at Jane and Highway 7 — one with much riding on it for the largest Caterpillar sales and service outlet in Ontario and for the Canadian Auto Workers, which represents striking mechanics, warehouse workers and labourers.

This is the only unionized facility operated by Toromont, which enjoyed a 14-per-cent increase in revenue last year. Not only did that make it possible to top up dividends to happy shareholders, but it also paid for lavish political contributions to the Tory party — $7,500 to the central campaign in the last election and more than $19,000 over the preceding five years.

Alas, such largesse does not extend to the workers. The company wants to freeze wages for warehouse workers and labourers and cut their cost-of-living allowances.

“No concessions!’ shout CAW speechifiers on Monday afternoon on a grassy knoll beside Highway 7 in a demo where the attendance of teachers, Steelworkers and students is a sign of what’s at stake.

I’d sure like to know what’s on this company’s mind. Unfortunately, no one from Toromont would talk to me for this story. But there is a hint in the air that this dispute is less about wages and benefits than it is about the future of the union at Toromont’s only organized plant. Why else would a booming company drive such a hard bargain? Why would they advertise in the Toronto Sun for scabs and brag to staff that even though they’re offering $4 less an hour than union rates they’ve received more than 100 applications? Why would they allege that union negotiators show up drunk? Strikes don’t get much dirtier than this, even when it’s the CAW on the line.

But if you were an employer hoping to bust a union, the militant, tough-talking CAW would be a trophy. It would be an inspiration for every would-be union-busting employer.

And it’s never been easier for employers to have their way. Tory changes to labour law make it harder to certify and easier to de-certify. Not surprisingly, decertifications have gone way up. Those campaign contributions certainly ended up in the hands of friends.

Bare-knuckle employer takes on bare-knuckle union. Let’s see who reaches the breaking point first.

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