More than 100 unionized workers – mostly welders and machinists – walked off the job Oct. 22 at three Bristol Machine Work sites in Greater Sudbury.
Marc Ayotte, staff representative with United Steelworkers Local 2020 in Sudbury, which represents the workers, said the main issue is wages.
“I’m not going to get into specifics,” Ayotte said. “What I can tell you is (the workers) feel that the money is not there and they want a better contract, monetarily.
“Keep in mind, three years ago, they agreed to a contract with Bristol that took a pay freeze. They got 0, 0, 0. Now they feel that they need to see something at the table.”
Bristol is a Sudbury-based company that manufactures, designs, produces and refurbishes a range of equipment, mainly for the mining industry. It’s owned by John Eddy and it exports products to companies around the world, as well as selling to local mining companies.
Ayotte said that economic conditions locally and around the work have improved to the point that workers at Bristol feel they’re long overdue for a raise. He wouldn’t, however, be specific about exactly what the contract demands are.
“But the economy has improved substantially,” he said. “The cost of living is still going up and they’ve had zero increase for the last three years.”
Talks had been going on for about three weeks before the contract expired Oct. 19. Workers at Bristol have been organized since 1986. The union and company met Oct. 18-19 with a provincial mediator in an attempt to reach a deal.
“The company gave a final contract proposal on Friday afternoon,” Ayotte said. “We presented it to the workers on Saturday morning. The (negotiating) committee felt it was prudent to have the membership decide whether to take the contract or not.”
He said terms of the contract proposal from the company were explained to the membership, and they voted to turn the deal down in a secret ballot vote.
“There were 99 members who showed up to the meeting – 86 voted no, while 13 voted yes,” he said. “So 87 per cent turned it down.”
Ayotte said workers are picketing at Bristol’s three locations – two in Walden and one on Algonquin Road in Sudbury. They’re waiting for the company to make the first move, he said.
“Right now, everybody’s on the picket line. We’ve got three sites. Once we hear from the company that they want to sit down, we’ll do that – whether it’s 10 o’clock tonight or 10 tomorrow morning. Whenever it is, we’re willing to sit down with the company and negotiate.”
When reached by phone, company president Eddy didn’t want to talk contract specifics.
“We have a statement we’ve been giving out to people,” Eddy said. “It’s probably best if we just stick to the statement and not negotiate in the media.”
In the statement, the company said it’s disappointed a deal couldn’t be reached without a strike.
“Our offer to the employees included improvements that, in the company’s view, constitute a fair and equitable contract,” the statement reads.
“The offer included wage increases in each of the three years, a signing bonus, increases in benefits and various other improvements. The company did not request any concessions during negotiations.
“We will be reaching out to the union for further discussions and hope that we will be able to reach an agreement quickly.”
While declining further comment, Eddy did say he hoped for a quick resumption of negotiations with the union.