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Cops watch as CAW talks

UNITED: Jerry Dias, a Canadian Auto Workers official, speaks to laid-off workers and media outside Progressive Moulded Products Monday. Dozens of people picketed outside the closed plant all week. Photo by Philip Alves/Vaughan Today

Facing potential court-ordered police action, laid-off workers blockading Progressive Moulded Products have turned to the Canadian Auto Workers for help.

The Concord-based auto parts maker abruptly scaled back operations at 11 of its plants last week, leaving hundreds out of work, most without any severance, vacation or final week’s pay. The shutdown came two weeks after the company — half a billion dollars in debt — filed for bankruptcy.

Demanding answers and some form of compensation, the non-unionized workers gathered at Progressive’s Keele St. headquarters late last week and began their protest and blockade of Ford, General Motors and Chrysler trucks.

Two court-issued injunctions have since been handed down declaring the blockade illegal.

Enter Canada’s largest private sector union.

“We’re here fighting for these workers,” Jerry Dias, assistant to CAW president Buzz Hargrove, said Monday on the lawn of Progressive. “They aren’t members of our union. They’re workers that need some help and we’re doing everything we can to help them with Ford, GM and Chrysler.

“But the reality is we’re fighting an uphill battle here,” he continued. “The police have already come down with two injunctions. It’s a matter of time before the police move in, so we’re trying to react as quickly as we can to get some relief.”

Though the threat of a police shutdown looms, as of press time the situation remained under control.

“We’re just there to keep the peace,” York police Constable Gary Phillips said Tuesday. “If we have to, if anyone is in breach of (the court order), then we take the appropriate course of action.”

With police keeping an eye on the protest outside, representatives from Progressive, bankruptcy receiver Ernst and Young, automakers Ford, GM and Chrysler, and the CAW continue to talk inside.

All three carmakers have injected cash into Progressive in recent weeks, with Ford promising an additional $2 million above GM’s and Chrysler’s commitments to ensure the company’s laid-off staff get their final week’s pay, Dias said. Progressive has also reinstated medical benefits to the end of the month.

The fight now, Dias said, is with GM and Chrysler.

“As of now, Ford is cooperating with us,” he said. “Now we’re trying to get the attention of General Motors and Chrysler.

“We’re going to start to cooperate and let in some (Ford) trucks.”

But, Dias continued, the blockade of GM and Chrysler trucks would continue to pressure the two carmakers to commit more money.

“These workers have been here, many of them, for over 30 years and they deserve their severance pay,” he said. “They deserve better. This is a crime.

“One thing that’s for sure, if the workers here weren’t fighting, they wouldn’t have got a nickel, and they wouldn’t get a nickel, so at least we’re fighting and we’re doing everything we can to get people’s attention.”

Progressive was Vaughan’s third largest employer with close to 1,500 workers, according to the city’s 2007 business survey.

“The closing of Progressive Moulded Products is part of a larger issue facing the auto industry in Ontario,” Gerald Searles, chair of the Vaughan Chamber of Commerce, said in an email Tuesday. “There is a great deal of sympathy for all the employees who have lost their jobs at this company.

“The Chamber believes Vaughan’s economy is robust enough to weather the closing of Progressive Moulded Products.”

Vaughan Today
Online: July 12, 2008 [link]