Hundreds of aerospace workers in Delta have been locked out.
On Monday night Avcorp Industries without notice locked out 300 employees from its River Way facility that builds major airframe structures for some of the world’s leading aircraft companies, including BAE Systems, Boeing, Bombardier, Lockheed Martin and Subaru Corporation.
The employees, members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, have been without a contract since April. They took a strike vote and later issued strike notice this summer, and subsequently had a self-imposed ban on overtime, followed by rotating job action.
After mediated talks broke down, the company applied for a government-supervised final offer vote.
It was conducted by the B.C. Labour Board over three days and members rejected it by a 98 per cent margin.
There’s been no bargaining for the past couple of weeks.
The union says and they had been bargaining since early January with about 25 full days of negotiations. Avcorp’s first offer was rejected by the workers by a margin of 100 per cent, which the union notes is a rarity these days.
"The two main issues are contracting out and seniority retention," said IAM District 250 business representative Paul Pelletreau in a news release.
"Aerospace is cyclical work, and the workers want to know that if they are laid off, they maintain their seniority," he said. "A laid-off worker can have worked for five years, be laid off and then return and have to apply as if they had never worked there – it’s just wrong."
The union says that in many cases, when a worker at Avcorp is laid-off, their recall rights expire and they must start again as new employees, losing all wage levels and accrued benefits. The last recall forced workers to take a pay cut of almost $4 per hour. A layoff period can last anywhere from two to four years. Similar work of this high-skilled trade is unavailable in the Delta area, the union says.
The union also says it is not asking for substantive changes in the contracting out language, but simply to account for the two newer facilities in Ontario and California.
Saying the lockout was a surprise move by the company, IAMAW representative Walter Gerlach told the Optimist they’re more than willing to resume negotiations, and the last thing they want to see is Avcorp’s major customers suffer as a result of the move.
The most important thing they want to ensure that good paying aerospace jobs remain in Delta, he said, adding over 200 workers at the Delta plant are impacted by the seniority issue.
Outside the Delta facility on a blustery Tuesday afternoon, the locked out workers, saying they were determined to protect their rights, were upbeat. Someone from the teachers union dropped by in a vehicle to deliver donuts and coffee in a show of support.
In a response statement Tuesday, Avcorp says it remains committed to reaching a mutually agreeable and fair collective agreement, one that provides competitive and fair wages and benefits to its employees.
The company also notes the union had begun rotating strikes at the plant and things got to the point where it was unable to carry on its operations due to the continuing interruptions, so the lockout was a last resort.
“The parties are very close to an agreement. Terms relating to wages and benefits have mostly been agreed upon. However, the Union is prolonging this labour dispute due to their wish to roll back changes that were agreed to by this union in the last round of bargaining in 2013. Currently recall rights for laid off employees last from one to seven years depending on an employee’s years of service. The current recall periods are very generous. The union is on strike in order to force Avcorp to reverse the status quo and go back to a time when recall rights lasted forever. The capping of recall rights is a commonly accepted industry practice,” the statement explains.
“The only other remaining item relates to a provision on sub-contracting. In the last collective agreement (and for many years prior), a provision on sub-contracting placed restrictions on the company’s ability to contract out work. Avcorp has not proposed any change to that provision. However, the union wishes to change the status quo and add more restrictions on Avcorp’s ability to reasonably and competitively manage its operation.”
The company added it’s open to continuing negotiations.