United Steelworkers members on strike at Timberland Equipment as company attacks retirement security

Employees at the Timberland Equipment manufacturing plant in Woodstock, members of the United Steelworkers union (USW), are on strike to resist the company’s attacks on their retirement security.

“There is no justification for this company’s demand to unilaterally weaken the retirement security of its employees,” said Myles Sullivan, USW Ontario Director.

“There has been labour peace at Timberland Equipment for more than three decades. Over the years the workers compromised and made sacrifices to support the company when times were tough,” Sullivan noted.

“But now that times are good, the current ownership group is taking a much different approach than in the past. They want to unilaterally weaken their employees’ pensions. They have no interest in compromise or negotiating with the workers who are primarily responsible for the company’s profitability and strong financial position,” he added.

The strike by 53 workers at Timberland Equipment began June 26. The majority of the workers are longer-serving employees who have a secure, defined-benefit pension plan. A smaller number of workers, hired in recent years, have a defined-contribution retirement plan that was introduced several years ago when the union sought to co-operate with the company to weather difficult economic conditions.

Now, despite the workers’ past sacrifices and the fact they have been generating significant profits for the company, Timberland ownership is seeking to eliminate the defined-benefit pension plan and is refusing to improve the defined-contribution retirement plan.

“For us, this is about respect. Our members made sacrifices in the past, and they’ve been making a lot of money for this company, but that doesn’t seem to matter,” said Adam Caron, President of USW Local 446M, representing the Timberland workers.

“This company is very profitable, and our defined-benefit pension plan is very healthy. So there’s no reason for the company to take the pension plan away. It’s just something they want to force on their employees,” Caron said.

During negotiations, the USW proposed a compromise solution that would save money for the company by moving all workers into the Steelworkers Pension Plan, which is run by the union. Dozens of companies in Canada, with thousands of employees, already contribute to the SPP as a cost-effective plan to provide retirement security to their workers.

“This was a very reasonable proposal that we made to the company. Even the Ministry of Labour mediator thought it was a reasonable proposal,” Caron said.

“Unfortunately, the company doesn’t seem interested in being reasonable. Their approach is just telling us, ‘here’s what we’re going to do.’ They’re not interested in compromise or discussing options. It’s their way or the highway, and they’ve provoked a strike,” he said.

“For the workers, this is about respect.”

The USW has indicated it is willing to return to the bargaining table at any time to resume meaningful negotiations.

Timberland Equipment manufactures industrial winches, hoists, sheaves, derricks and tensioning equipment.

The USW represents 225,000 members in nearly every economic sector across Canada and is the largest private-sector union in North America, with 850,000 members in Canada, the United States and the Caribbean.

Each year, thousands of workers choose to join the USW because of our strong track record in creating healthier, safer and more respectful workplaces and negotiating better working conditions and fairer compensation – including good wages, benefits and pensions.