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Owens Corning workers hit the picket line (5 photos)

A company spokesperson said the union leadership recommended Owens Corning's final offer before membership voted 93 per cent against it

The union members picketing outside the Owens Corning plant Friday afternoon say a one-year contract being offered by the company is not fair, especially to newer workers.

Approximately 55 unionized workers at the York Road plant have been without a contract since June. Negotiations broke down recently after Workers United Local 1305 rejected the company’s final offer.

About 30 people were picketing in front of the plant when the strike began at 12 p.m. on Friday.

The company suggested a one-year contract at the beginning of negotiations in response to COVID-19, said Sally Culling, communications leader for Owens Corning.

"The union committee discussed this offer and readily agreed with this approach. They did not ask for a three-year agreement at any time during the negotiations," said Culling.

The company proposed an above-market pay increase, as well as increased pay scales for new employees, said Culling.

"Union leadership recommended the final deal to their members, which was unfortunately rejected by them in a subsequent vote. We negotiated in good faith and our final offer is a fair one," she said.

Local president Tom Cunningham said the company has tried in the past to include language in the contract to allow for probationary employees, which he said creates a two-tiered system between the newer hires and long-time employees.

He said the company has tried to negotiate for probationary employees in the past, even before the pandemic began in March. The company and union last met on Nov. 12 after the contract expired on June 1.

"Our machines are running a little bit quicker than it was before COVID, so COVID had nothing to do with it," said Cunningham. "They stuck to their guns and we've just had enough.”

He said the workers will stay on the picket line until the issue is resolved.

About 15 minutes after the strike action began, a white charter bus attempted to enter the main gate but the picket line didn’t allow it to cross.

Cunningham said the 10 or more people on the bus were likely non-unionized temporary workers, commonly referred to by union members as scabs.

"It's going to stay there for a while,” said Cunningham about the bus.

Culling confirmed the company plans to operate the plant during the strike while looks forward to the final agreement being ratified.

The plant at 247 York Rd. in Guelph once employed over 600 workers but now has less than 10 per cent of that workforce. It produces continuous filament mat for the North American market.

Joe Gobbi, financial secretary for Local 1305, said he doesn’t want to see a two-tier system for the newer workers.

"We don't feel that is very fair. We want new employees to feel good about working for Owens Corning like we have been proud to work for Owens Corning,” said Gobbi.

He has worked for the company for more than 35 years and said the added language about probationary employees was the last straw that resulted in the local voting 93 per cent in favour of a strike.

"We like working for the company, it's not a bad company to work for, but over the last 25 years they have taken away pensions, they have taken away benefits and holidays. It's always take take take,” said Gobbi. “They left us no choice.”

Gobbi said standing up for new hires isn’t just for the benefit of the employees, but for the betterment of the company as a whole.

"We excel at making fibreglass. We make the best fibreglass in the world,” said Gobbi. “We are a world-class organization but we are not getting treated like that way.”