One of Canada’s largest labour unions was met with open hostility by Honda workers after picketers set up outside the Alliston plants today.
Members from the Canadian Auto Workers union were outside the Honda of Canada Mfg. plant entrances during the afternoon shift change handing out information leaflets and looking for support.
While most Honda workers leaving the plant simply kept their windows rolled up, some yelled insults and obscenities at the picketers.
"You already put Ford and Chrysler out of work," one man yelled as he drove by. Another woman shouted to the picketers to "go home."
Some Honda workers opened their windows and took the leaflets, while a few honked their horns.
CAW representatives said the picket was to inform Honda workers of the difficulties autoworkers are currently facing. They want them to back the CAW as it fights cuts in the sector caused by the current recession.
"It’s a solidarity message from the CAW with respect to what’s going on in the auto industry, the cause of it, and that it’s affecting all auto workers, not just GM, Ford, (and) Chrysler, but Honda and Toyota as well," said Dan MacPherson, of the CAW.
The union had also scheduled information pickets outside the Toyota plants in southern Ontario.
While Honda is not unionized, the CAW argues in the leaflet that wages and benefits of unionized employees have a direct impact on those of Honda workers.
Karen Clark is part of the CAW Local 222 and works at the General Motors plant in Oshawa. She made the trip to Alliston for the picket. She said the media, among others, has given the public the impression that the union is to blame for the current financial trouble of the Big Three automakers. She suspects that’s part of the reason some Honda associates were acting hostile.
"It’s a scary time for people, because they don’t know where to turn," she said. "If you actually look at the facts, I could work for free now and it wouldn’t sell another car."
As Honda associates rolled into a local Tim Hortons after their shift, the reaction was a little more muted. Most didn’t want to comment on the picket. One man said the union was wasting its time and that the CAW doesn’t have a place in Honda. Another woman said she wasn’t allowed to talk about it.
The issues for the CAW include layoffs, wage reductions, and recent reports that the province doesn’t have the money to back private pension plans should General Motors, or any of the Big Three automakers, file for bankruptcy protection.
Ontario’s Pension Benefit Guarantee Fund provides pensioners with up to $1,000 a month if a private plan falters.
Premier Dalton McGuinty said last week there was not enough money in the fund to cover pensions should GM go bankrupt. The fund is currently worth about $100 million.
If that happens, the CAW argues, retirees from all sectors across the province could find themselves in financial jeopardy. The union is staging a large rally at Queen’s Park April 23 to push the government to do more to guarantee workers’ pensions.
Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan has said the province’s priority is to work with GM to make sure the situation never gets that far.
Honda in Alliston had no comment on the union action. Honda communications spokesperson Colin Fisher wouldn’t release any details regarding Honda’s pension plan, but he said there have been no changes to it during the economic turbulence of the past six months.
Honda has however significantly cut production in the past months, cancelling the Plant 2 afternoon shift, buying out all temporary worker contracts, and at times cutting production to four days a week.
-With files from Torstar