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Blockade charges dropped

Charges against dozens of protesting ex-employees of bankrupt Progressive Moulded Products were dropped this week.

The workers had been charged last week with violating court injunctions that declared their blockade illegal.

The Concord-based auto parts maker — Vaughan’s third-largest employer in 2007 — abruptly scaled back operations at 11 of its plants earlier this month, leaving more than 1,500 people out of work and prompting the blockade.

“Thirty-five people were charged,” Jerry Dias, assistant to Canadian Auto Workers president Buzz Hargrove, said Monday.

Dias said Wednesday those charges were thrown out.

Saddled with half a billion dollars in debt, Progressive Moulded filed for bankruptcy in June. Unable to reach a deal to keep its doors open, the parts maker became one of several companies claimed by the auto sector crunch.

With benefits, wages, vacation pay and severance in the balance, several of Progressive Moulded’s non-unionized workers turned to the CAW for help.

Pointing to bankruptcy laws that treat workers as unsecured creditors, Dias called the process “just outrageous”, saying it should be a company’s assets that cover severance pay.

“It just happened (again) last week,” he said. “Polywheels in Oakville went bankrupt. The workers didn’t get any money because of the bankruptcy.

“You’ve got Plastech workers in Leamington. Plant closed, workers didn’t get any severance.”

Through the negotiations that started early last week, Progressive’s laid-off employees have been given commitments to receive outstanding wages and vacation pay, and benefits have been reinstated for the remainder of the month, Dias said.

But, “there has been zero severance paid to the workers and there is zero commitment that severance will be paid,” he said.

Last Friday, Dias and four Progressive Moulded employees met with federal Minister of Labour Jean-Pierre Blackburn, looking for government help.

“The federal minister of labour gave no hope that anything could be done for these workers,” Dias said. “He understands the bankruptcy laws, he understands that the workers are unsecured creditors, but made absolutely no commitment that his government would do anything about it, which is a real shame.

“When you deal with the senior minister of labour, … you would think we’d get a commitment to action, but we didn’t get anything.”

In an email last week, Vaughan Chamber of Commerce chair Gerald Searles said the Chamber’s belief is “Vaughan’s economy is robust enough to weather the closing of Progressive Moulded Products”.

Dias disagreed.

“Vaughan, as a manufacturing area, relies … heavily on exports to the United States,” he said. “So Progressive Moulded is just another plant that is leaving Vaughan and many more are going to happen.”

Vaughan Today
Online: July 17, 2008 [link]