CAW unionized employees of Evraz Camrose Works, a pipe manufacturing plant, picketed May 5 after contract negotiations broke down only two days earlier.

By Mark Crown/ Camrose Canadian

More than 100 Camrose pipe workers are playing the waiting game as recent contract negotiations broke down last week.

At 9 a.m. May 5 Evraz Camrose Works locked out 105 Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) unionized employees at the Camrose facility.

Negotiations broke off May 3 after the two sides could not come to any form of settlement to ratify a new agreement.

Larry Luckwell, president of local 551 for CAW, said the two sides differed on issues of wage increases for current workers and concessions of pension and retiree benefits for future workers.

“Evraz is seeking to extract concessions from our contract and is refusing to provide a fair and reasonable monetary settlement,” he said. “Evraz is also seeking to remove our defined benefit pension plan and retiree benefits for future employees.”

CAW national representative Todd Romanow said the concessions shouldn’t be on the table.

“It’s a hard industrial plant and people need those retiree benefits and that pension.”

Romanow said Evraz recently singed a contract extension at its facilities inCalgaryandRegina, which contained a wage increase and no concessions.

Romanow promised to continue fighting for employees in Camrose.

“It’s the same company and we do the same work, in fact I think we are more profitable and we get a substantially smaller offer,” he said, adding Evraz told him it was a different economic situation in Camrose. “They think this is a little town in the middle ofAlbertaand they can push everybody around. But it’s not going to happen.”

Mike Rehwinkel,President and CEO of Evraz North America, had a different view of negotiations.

“With my full support, on May 6 Evraz accepted the solution that was recommended by the mediator and that includes multiple wage and pension increases for employees. Much to my disappointment, the union did not accept the mediator’s recommendation,” he said in a prepared statement. “During my long career, I’ve been involved with numerous union negotiations. Folks at Evraz who have gotten to know me over the past couple of years know that I call it as I see it, and I see this one – the mediators recommended solution to us and the union – as fair and beneficial to our employees. I also firmly believe that this solution will enable us to maintain the competitive position of the Camrose facility so we can continue making great pipe for years to come.”

Romanow and Luckwell said that all the workers want is a fair settlement.

“If they called us with the Regina/Calgary deal and took the concessions off the table we would vote on it tonight,” Romanow said.

And Luckwell agreed, saying the, “union membership is seeking parity with its sister plants.”

Local employee David Strilchuk has been working at the pipe making plant for 28 years and was out picketing Saturday. He is a member of the union feels that Evraz should offer the same deal to Camrose that they offered toCalgaryandRegina.

“It’s not our wish to be here. It’s the companies wish to do this to us,” he said. “We are not the greedy ones here, we were more than willing to settle the deal but it was upper management that didn’t want to budge and wanted to teach us a lesson.”

The lockout could be a lengthy one and it appears as if neither side will budge from its position. The first step is likely going to be just getting back to the bargaining table.

“Everybody’s out of work. But it’s for a reason and we have all taken the position that community values and family values are more important than corporate greed,” Strilchuk said.