Government Must Intervene to Secure Navistar's Future in Chatham, CAW says

June 3, 2010, 12:00 PM EST

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In front of a raucous crowd of nearly 600 CAW Local 127 and 35 members in Chatham, Ontario, CAW President Ken Lewenza expressed his anger and frustration over the lack of progress in negotiations aimed at getting hundreds of laid off Navistar truck plant workers back on the job, and demanded answers from the company on its plans for the facility.

Lewenza said that after a year of ongoing talks with the CAW, it is clear the company will not willingly come to terms on an agreement that would re-start the idled Richmond Street facility - an important engine for the local economy - and continue assembling heavy duty trucks.

Lewenza urged both provincial and federal governments to intervene and ensure the plant continues running, especially since Navistar has in past years received more than $63 million in government funds, as well as over $40 million in contract cost savings.

"We've been left in limbo for nearly one year, not knowing whether we'll ever get back to work," said Cathy Wiebenga, plant chairperson at the Navistar facility. "There's no good reason why we can't get answers from this company and it's time our elected officials step in to defend our interests."

Navistar was once the largest employer in the Chatham-Kent region of southern Ontario. The indefinite halt in production has left many individuals, charities and businesses in the community reeling, said Sonny Galea, chairperson of the CAW Local 35 office workers unit at Navistar.

"How can our governments sit back and let a corporation like Navistar take the public's money and run off with it, while an entire community falls to pieces? This is what's most frustrating about our situation; our elected leaders don't seem to think this is a problem that they have to deal with."

The Navistar plant was idled in June 2009, timed with the expiry of the collective agreements for production, skilled trades and office workers. The union's constant efforts to negotiate a compromise agreement with the company to keep the facility running have so far been unsuccessful.

Lewenza noted that without any clear sense of the plant's future, laid off workers are caught in a difficult situation as current EI benefits continue to run out. Many local businesses are reluctant to hire members because it is not yet clear if they will eventually be recalled. 

The company has shifted much of the production for its Lonestar and Prostar truck models to facilities in the U.S. and Mexico.


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