Irving workers want higher pay

Shipbuilding contract should benefit workers, too, says union.

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The workers who painted the scenic backdrop for prime minister Harper’s braggadocio-filled re-announcement of the coming ships’ money are currently in contract negotiations with Irving Shipyard, hoping to land a new contract with competitive wages.

Karl Risser, union president of Local 1 of the Canadian Auto Workers-Marine Workers Federation, says it’s too early to divulge the details, but they’ll be aiming for a higher standard of living. “Obviously we want a better quality of life for our workers, we’ve just been awarded a billion-dollar contract---we want to increase some of those benefits,” says Risser.

Skilled shipyard workers currently start at $20 and can move up to $30 an hour with full benefits. Risser says that’s a comparable wage locally, but explains that it still falls short of wages in other regions.

While Harper was feting the expected 11,500 jobs, CAW president Ken Lewenza was criticizing the prime minister for refusing to comment on the locked-out workers at a London, Ontario Caterpillar plant, who were turned away after they said no to an unprecedented take-it-or-leave-it 55 percent wage cut offer (from $34 down to $16.50), despite the company’s high earnings. Lewenza described it as unprecedented.

In 2008, Harper showcased that plant in photo-op and handed the executives a $5 million federal tax break, saying that a low-tax environment was the way to Canadian job creators’ hearts.

“From the provincial standpoint, we’d want the anti-scab legislation from our NDP government at some point, but as far as lock-out protection, the employer has the right to lock us out and we have the right to strike, that’s how the system works.” says Risser, “But I mean, more and more you’re seeing the government of Canada invade that system.”

“Every time I look at Harper I get worried---he’s the next generation’s Mulroney,” Risser says, “He’s decided to take on the labour movement as a whole.”

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