The North Star


Owens-Illinois glassworks strike

51.6% pay rise for CEO, workers refuse crumbs

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It's now been over 2 weeks since the 330 workers at the Owens Illinois glassworks in Pointe-Saint-Charles went on an unlimited general strike. Employees at Quebec's only glass foundry receive an entry-level wage of $26/hr, whereas in Quebec's metal foundries, "it doesn't go below $35/hr", according to Claude [nickname], who has worked at the glassworks for several years and was interviewed by North Star.

He continues: "We're asking for a 7% increase, which is about a dollar and a half an hour more. We want a wage that's in keeping with the environment in which we work, and we deserve that. [...] The company has made us a completely ridiculous offer. By 2022 inflation has almost gone up 7%, the only thing we're asking for is to keep up with inflation." Meanwhile, Owens-Illinois gives back to the average worker only 20% of the monetary value they produce per year.

In a press release, Steelworkers union representative Steve Galibois explained that "union members have decided to use the ultimate means to gain respect. Once again, the employer does not recognize the contribution of workers. For several negotiations now, it has been giving as little as possible, resulting in a gradual reduction in working conditions over time. Enough is enough! Our members demand respect."

"At the previous agreement, that's where we should have said 'it's enough'," says another striker wishing to remain anonymous, "we agreed to 2% before the pandemic, in 2019. During the pandemic, we got nothing at all, no increase." Claude adds that when he arrived, the salary was good in relation to the cost of living, but no longer.

In addition to wage cuts, the company was imposing major setbacks on pensions and insurance, and all this in a tough, dangerous job. "After being cheated convention after convention, basically we want to win back what we've lost over the years," points out one striker. "And we're going to get it!"

Conditions are not easy for these workers. The labor shortage brings its share of overtime, and they work in extremely hot, sometimes dangerous conditions. They work rotating shifts of 12, i.e. a schedule of, for example, 2 day shifts, 2 night shifts, 3 day shifts, 2 night shifts, depending on the week.

The Owens-Illinois glass plant was considered an essential service during the pandemic, and continued to produce around the clock. For this, they say they got "a pat on the back saying 'count yourself lucky to have a job'. They told us that, and gave us a sandwich," says Claude, explaining that instead of a raise, the company gave them a sandwich dinner as a thank-you during the pandemic.

"What's more, it looks like the bosses got good raises. If you're able to give a good raise to your bosses, you're able to give a good raise to your employees." Indeed, between 2020 and 2022, total compensation for Owens-Illinois CEO Andres A. Lopez, rose from $8.07 million to $12.24 million, a dazzling 51.6% increase. Meanwhile, the real wages of workers, who earn on average 332 times less than Lopez, have fallen when inflation is taken into account.

Some workers also draw a parallel between the significant pay rise Quebec MPs recently granted themselves and the small increase in their salaries since 2019: "They gave themselves 30% [increase], me, if I had 30% I wouldn't be on strike." His colleague adds that "me, if I had 30%, I'd be sleeping here."

On May 12, a delegation from the Steel Solidarity Committee came to announce support for the Owens-Illinois strikers. The latter had declared that they were there to support those fighting for their conditions. "Your cause is the cause of all workers right now. Solidarity is important to help you keep your heads above water and see your demands through."

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