Struggle against Crown Holdings crosses borders

Philadelphia — A busload of 50 strikers from United Steelworkers Local 9176 in Toronto joined 50 other USW members and local labor activists outside the Philadelphia headquarters of Crown Holdings on Oct. 16. Chanting, “One day longer, one day stronger!” the workers from Canada and the United States demonstrated their unity against one of the world’s largest manufacturers of metal beverage and food cans and aerosol containers.

Joining the Toronto workers were members of the Food and Commercial Workers union and Service Employees union, along with Teamsters, postal workers, and city and state AFL-CIO leaders. USW members who have picketed Hoffman Industries over an illegal lockout in Sinking Spring, Pa., since March 6, 2011, came to support their ­Canadian brothers and sisters.

USW Local 9176 President Ken Heatherton; Marty Warren, director of USW District 6, representing 74,000 union members in Ontario and Atlantic Canada; and USW Vice President Fred Redmond spoke against Crown’s anti-union strategy. Redmond, who represents 1.2 million active and retired USW members, emphasized: “All these companies are making profits. … If they can defeat us in Toronto, then they’ll come after all of us.”

Crown Holdings has 149 plants in 41 countries, employing 21,900 workers. There used to be two Crown factories in Toronto — employing a total of 1,000 workers — which supplied Labatt, Molson-Coors, Altoids, Cadbury and other manufacturers in the area.

Using automation and digital technology, the company consolidated Toronto operations into one plant with only 125 workers, who turn out more than 5 million cans per day — more than the two factories had previously produced in ­total.

Earlier this year, Crown gave these union members an achievement award for meeting or exceeding company expectations for “safety, productivity, quality and budget management.”

Crown forces strike on workers

Despite that huge increase in productivity — which helped Crown Holdings double its profits last year and award its CEO a $12-million compensation package — the company provoked a strike by demanding major concessions. These include a two-tier wage schedule, elimination of a cost-of-living allowance, minimal wage increases and the continuation of a nine-year-long pension freeze.

USW Local 9176 members refused to work under those terms and started walking picket lines on Sept. 6, in their first strike since 1992. Crown responded by recruiting strikebreakers from its nonunion operations in Calgary, further inflaming the conflict.

Joe Drexler, of USW Strategic Campaigns, explained to Workers World: “The two-tier wage issue is a dominant one. These workers are standing up not only for themselves but for the next generation. Too many American companies have come to Canada to rape our economy and have been wholly supported by our prime minister, who is trying to create a low-wage Canada in the interest of the multinational corporations.”

The USW began a global “Take-Backs No More” online petition campaign, and sent more than 7,000 letters to Crown Holdings CEO John Conway, demanding he put a stop to the attacks on workers, not only in Canada but also in Turkey. The company has resorted to union-busting tactics against Birlesik Metal-IS, the union for Crown workers in Turkey since early 2012. (labourstartcampaigns.net)

Two more rallies are being organized. One will take place on Oct. 18 in Baar, Switzerland, where Crown’s European headquarters is located and the other will be held in Turkey on Oct. 21.