TORONTO, March 20, 2012 /CNW/ - Claudio Wastavino, a 33-year worker forced into a 27-month strike at manufacturer Infinity Rubber, took his case to the Bank of Montreal's annual shareholders meeting in Halifax today.
Along with United Steelworkers (USW) official Wayne Rae, Wastavino reached out to BMO shareholders about his and his co-workers' plight at Infinity Rubber in Toronto. Infinity Rubber provoked a strike in 2009 and has since refused to negotiate a fair deal to resolve the labour dispute, one of the longest in Toronto history.
Today, Claudio Wastavino and Wayne Rae told BMO shareholders that the bank has taken sides and helped prolong the damaging strike at Infinity Rubber. BMO has financed BRI Holdings Inc. - a holding company associated with the Infinity Rubber group, the Steelworkers noted.
David A. Galloway, BMO's outgoing chairman, told the Steelworkers the bank did not want to get involved in the labour dispute. But the Steelworkers responded that BMO is not only involved in the conflict, it has helped prolong the hardship on working families by financing BRI Holdings.
"It was important to us to speak to the shareholders of the Bank of Montreal directly, in person, at this meeting," said USW District 6 Director Wayne Fraser. "We wanted them to hear from the strikers, to see exactly what BMO's irresponsible and unethical loan is doing to these families."
USW members have been on the picket line at Infinity Rubber since December 2009, when their employer made demands for drastic wage and benefit concessions to take the average worker from a $20 hourly wage to just over $13. Recently, the company made a new, lesser offer of $11/hour, with no guarantees the striking workers could return. All the workers had been with the company for over 10 years, and some more than 30 years.
"We think it's appalling that BMO closed its eyes to the dreadful labour practices at Infinity Rubber and handed the operation money to keep shafting its workers," Fraser said. "BMO says it believes in collective bargaining and the right to join unions - then they need to put their money where their mouth is."
Despite the bitter strike, BMO chose to grant a $7.5-million mortgage to the Infinity Rubber group through its holding company in June 2011, even though the company's owners and managers had a recent history of insolvency and bankruptcy while at the helm of the predecessor company, Biltrite Industries.
The fresh BMO financing enabled the operation to repay a high-interest loan and to continue operating with much lower costs and with temporary replacement workers, while ignoring the striking workers' concerns.
The USW set up a giant inflatable rat outside the hotel where the BMO shareholders meeting was held to symbolize the bank's behaviour. Steelworkers leafleted shareholders as they entered and held a news conference prior to the meeting.
The USW recently announced it had sold all BMO shares held through the Steelworker Benefit Plan to protest the bank's financing of Infinity Rubber. The union kept a small number of the bank's shares to be able to represent the striking workers at today's shareholders meeting.
More information about the strike, visit: http://www.usw.ca/BMObankrollsInfinityRubber
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