Strike reaches two-year mark

News Dec 02, 2011 by Noel Grzetic Etobicoke Guardian

"Why am I still on strike?"

That's the question Gustavo Sotomayor asks himself every day, two years after first stepping onto the picket line at Infinity Rubber Technology Group Inc.

He and 47 members of the United Steel Workers (USW) Local 526 have been on strike at the North Queen Street plant since Dec. 2, 2009. Most of the men are over 55, and have families to support. They make $350 a week in strike pay.

"I made some money when I sold the house and I keep that money to survive. From that money, I've been paying the rent until now," said Sotomayor in a recent interview on the picket line. He worked for the company for 16 years, and as a result of the change in income has had to downsize to a smaller car, making some of his six children take the bus.

"But that money is finished, no more savings."

That's the stark financial reality these union members are facing. Many are immigrants who found work at the plant when they first arrived in Canada. Some worked at the plant for over thirty years. Their jobs have been taken over by temporary workers who fill in during strikes. The union says this is one of the city's longest-lasting strikes.

According to Joe Drexler, the strategic campaigns director for the USW, Sotomayor and about 100 other workers agreed to take "major wage concessions" in 2008 when Infinity Rubber faced economic struggle. Workers lost between $3-5 an hour depending on the individual's wages.

Half the workforce was laid off before Sotomayor and his co-workers went on strike in 2009, rejecting a 25 per cent reduction in wages and 50 per cent reduction to benefits. Drexler said the company stands by its initial offer.

"Any strike that lasts 90 days or more should go to an arbitrator who examines the facts of the case and makes a binding decision," said Drexler, referencing other provinces' laws.

"When you allow the employer to use replacement workers during a strike or lockout, the employer has the upper hand," he said. "It's the use of replacement workers that have allowed Infinity Rubber to prolong this strike."

Infinity Rubber did not respond to The Guardian's requests for comment by deadline.

Sotomayor has been hunting for a job, if at the very least something to complement his strike pay, for over a year. So far, he's come up empty-handed. At 55, he says it's not easy to find a job, especially for someone skilled in Ontario's manufacturing industry which lost 300,000 jobs in the past decade.

"I keep trying but I can't find something - even cleaning. Before, when I came to this country, that's the first thing I used to do. But, now, it's very difficult. They don't need people, they don't hire people," he said inside one of the huts erected on the picket line.

"My wife helps me a lot. She pays the bills, like hydro, telephone, water, gas. We have arguments about the money. Sometimes it gets to you, but that's why we're a couple."

Many workers have family to help them, but the long strike is definitely affecting their lives as their retirement savings dwindle.

Henre Palma, 65, had to get a loan to keep up with the bills. He's only able to pay off the interest.

"Before, I used to go out to a restaurant on the weekend but now it's different. You cut everything," he said, while monitoring an idling car waiting to cross the picket line. One of the legal conditions of the strike is that all motorists must wait 20 minutes each time they go on or off the property.

"I started in 1972. I worked all my life in this company," he said. "I can't quit now."

The strikers and union representatives will meet Saturday, Dec. 3 to discuss the future of the strike. Drexler said legal action against Infinity Rubber may be in the cards.

Strike reaches two-year mark

Union workers at Infinity Rubber finding it difficult to make ends meet

News Dec 02, 2011 by Noel Grzetic Etobicoke Guardian

"Why am I still on strike?"

That's the question Gustavo Sotomayor asks himself every day, two years after first stepping onto the picket line at Infinity Rubber Technology Group Inc.

He and 47 members of the United Steel Workers (USW) Local 526 have been on strike at the North Queen Street plant since Dec. 2, 2009. Most of the men are over 55, and have families to support. They make $350 a week in strike pay.

"I made some money when I sold the house and I keep that money to survive. From that money, I've been paying the rent until now," said Sotomayor in a recent interview on the picket line. He worked for the company for 16 years, and as a result of the change in income has had to downsize to a smaller car, making some of his six children take the bus.

"But that money is finished, no more savings."

That's the stark financial reality these union members are facing. Many are immigrants who found work at the plant when they first arrived in Canada. Some worked at the plant for over thirty years. Their jobs have been taken over by temporary workers who fill in during strikes. The union says this is one of the city's longest-lasting strikes.

According to Joe Drexler, the strategic campaigns director for the USW, Sotomayor and about 100 other workers agreed to take "major wage concessions" in 2008 when Infinity Rubber faced economic struggle. Workers lost between $3-5 an hour depending on the individual's wages.

Half the workforce was laid off before Sotomayor and his co-workers went on strike in 2009, rejecting a 25 per cent reduction in wages and 50 per cent reduction to benefits. Drexler said the company stands by its initial offer.

"Any strike that lasts 90 days or more should go to an arbitrator who examines the facts of the case and makes a binding decision," said Drexler, referencing other provinces' laws.

"When you allow the employer to use replacement workers during a strike or lockout, the employer has the upper hand," he said. "It's the use of replacement workers that have allowed Infinity Rubber to prolong this strike."

Infinity Rubber did not respond to The Guardian's requests for comment by deadline.

Sotomayor has been hunting for a job, if at the very least something to complement his strike pay, for over a year. So far, he's come up empty-handed. At 55, he says it's not easy to find a job, especially for someone skilled in Ontario's manufacturing industry which lost 300,000 jobs in the past decade.

"I keep trying but I can't find something - even cleaning. Before, when I came to this country, that's the first thing I used to do. But, now, it's very difficult. They don't need people, they don't hire people," he said inside one of the huts erected on the picket line.

"My wife helps me a lot. She pays the bills, like hydro, telephone, water, gas. We have arguments about the money. Sometimes it gets to you, but that's why we're a couple."

Many workers have family to help them, but the long strike is definitely affecting their lives as their retirement savings dwindle.

Henre Palma, 65, had to get a loan to keep up with the bills. He's only able to pay off the interest.

"Before, I used to go out to a restaurant on the weekend but now it's different. You cut everything," he said, while monitoring an idling car waiting to cross the picket line. One of the legal conditions of the strike is that all motorists must wait 20 minutes each time they go on or off the property.

"I started in 1972. I worked all my life in this company," he said. "I can't quit now."

The strikers and union representatives will meet Saturday, Dec. 3 to discuss the future of the strike. Drexler said legal action against Infinity Rubber may be in the cards.

Strike reaches two-year mark

Union workers at Infinity Rubber finding it difficult to make ends meet

News Dec 02, 2011 by Noel Grzetic Etobicoke Guardian

"Why am I still on strike?"

That's the question Gustavo Sotomayor asks himself every day, two years after first stepping onto the picket line at Infinity Rubber Technology Group Inc.

He and 47 members of the United Steel Workers (USW) Local 526 have been on strike at the North Queen Street plant since Dec. 2, 2009. Most of the men are over 55, and have families to support. They make $350 a week in strike pay.

"I made some money when I sold the house and I keep that money to survive. From that money, I've been paying the rent until now," said Sotomayor in a recent interview on the picket line. He worked for the company for 16 years, and as a result of the change in income has had to downsize to a smaller car, making some of his six children take the bus.

"But that money is finished, no more savings."

That's the stark financial reality these union members are facing. Many are immigrants who found work at the plant when they first arrived in Canada. Some worked at the plant for over thirty years. Their jobs have been taken over by temporary workers who fill in during strikes. The union says this is one of the city's longest-lasting strikes.

According to Joe Drexler, the strategic campaigns director for the USW, Sotomayor and about 100 other workers agreed to take "major wage concessions" in 2008 when Infinity Rubber faced economic struggle. Workers lost between $3-5 an hour depending on the individual's wages.

Half the workforce was laid off before Sotomayor and his co-workers went on strike in 2009, rejecting a 25 per cent reduction in wages and 50 per cent reduction to benefits. Drexler said the company stands by its initial offer.

"Any strike that lasts 90 days or more should go to an arbitrator who examines the facts of the case and makes a binding decision," said Drexler, referencing other provinces' laws.

"When you allow the employer to use replacement workers during a strike or lockout, the employer has the upper hand," he said. "It's the use of replacement workers that have allowed Infinity Rubber to prolong this strike."

Infinity Rubber did not respond to The Guardian's requests for comment by deadline.

Sotomayor has been hunting for a job, if at the very least something to complement his strike pay, for over a year. So far, he's come up empty-handed. At 55, he says it's not easy to find a job, especially for someone skilled in Ontario's manufacturing industry which lost 300,000 jobs in the past decade.

"I keep trying but I can't find something - even cleaning. Before, when I came to this country, that's the first thing I used to do. But, now, it's very difficult. They don't need people, they don't hire people," he said inside one of the huts erected on the picket line.

"My wife helps me a lot. She pays the bills, like hydro, telephone, water, gas. We have arguments about the money. Sometimes it gets to you, but that's why we're a couple."

Many workers have family to help them, but the long strike is definitely affecting their lives as their retirement savings dwindle.

Henre Palma, 65, had to get a loan to keep up with the bills. He's only able to pay off the interest.

"Before, I used to go out to a restaurant on the weekend but now it's different. You cut everything," he said, while monitoring an idling car waiting to cross the picket line. One of the legal conditions of the strike is that all motorists must wait 20 minutes each time they go on or off the property.

"I started in 1972. I worked all my life in this company," he said. "I can't quit now."

The strikers and union representatives will meet Saturday, Dec. 3 to discuss the future of the strike. Drexler said legal action against Infinity Rubber may be in the cards.