January 8, 2014
COBOURG, ONTARIO — A 20-hour bargaining session that ended at 5:30 a.m. Jan. 8 failed to resolve a lockout at Horizon Plastics Inc., and union workers remained off the job at the Cobourg structural foam molder, in bitter cold weather.
Job security for full-time workers is the core issue, according to both the union and management. Workers were locked out Jan. 5, after they rejected an offer, and they set up picketing just as temperatures began to plummet to dangerously cold levels, as low as -15° F. They burned barrel fires and set up plastic sheeting, trying to block out harsh, biting wind.
Horizon Plastics President Peter Garvey said the molder wants to be able to hire more temporary workers, to meet seasonable demand for some Horizon products.
Paul Hardwick, representative of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 175, said the union understands that Horizon needs some flexibility. "The core issue is the element of introducing part-time employes," Hardwick said as he took a break from picket-line duty outside the sprawling Horizon factory in an industrial park. "They were seeking what we feel was an unacceptable level of the use of part-time employees."
Hardwick said Horizon Plastics used to employ 400 full-time workers, but that number has dropped. Garvey, speaking by phone, said the company now employs between 160-220.
A mediator began helping with the negotiations in late December, after union members had turned down an offer earlier that month.
"We broke off at 5:30 a.m. this morning, unfortunately without a deal," Hardwick said on Jan. 8.
The previous four-year contract expired in November. The company and union had negotiated through October, November and December.
Company executives and union leaders disagree about pay raises during the contract period. Hardwick and other union members said the wages were frozen under the last four-year pact, and that, in the proposed new contract, Horizon wanted to freeze wages for three more years, and give a modest raise in the fourth, and final year.
But Garvey said that's not true. He said in the last contract, the company did make adjustments to pay, either a lump-sum payment or a percentage raise. "There were adjustments each and every year," he said.
The same type of pay adjustments were offered in the new contract offer, Garvey said.
Hardwick said UFCW members also agreed to a lower pay rate for new hires, as a concession under the prior contract.
Horizon Plastics is one of the largest structural foam molders in North America. The company has won numerous awards for its work.
Long-time workers on the picket line said the company had never before had a lockout, or a strike.
Started in 1972, Horizon Plastics opened a plant in Mexico last year. In a Dec. 3 report, the Northumberland Today newspaper quoted Garvey as saying Ontario manufacturers face stiff competition from the United States but he expressed hope Horizon Plastics can remain viable in Cobourg. Having a plant in Mexico should allow flexibility to fulfill orders, he indicated.
Meanwhile, in Cobourg, Horizon is shipping products and doing some production, with management doing the work.
In 2012, Horizon installed a massive low-pressure structural foam press in Cobourg. The 2,500-ton, multinozzle Uniloy machine was aimed at new applications and parts consolidation. Horizon Plastics' markets include industrial, environmental, marine and consumer.