The final chapter in the Navistar truck assembly plant closure saga is drawing near.
Unifor, the union representing former production and office employees with Locals 127 and 35, announced late Tuesday afternoon that the long fight for severance money owed to workers has been won.
This comes on the heels of news last month that the Financial Services Commission of Ontario approved the partial wind-up of the defined benefit pension plans for former eligible employees with Locals 127 and 35, which was also a long, drawn-out battle to get settled.
The national union was known then as the Canadian Auto Workers when it filed a grievance concerning Navistar’s denial of severance pay for hundreds of employees when the Richmond Street plant ceased production in June 2009 and closed for good in July of 2011.
Unifor stated the arbitrator has ruled in favour of the union to award all entitled workers their outstanding payments under the Employment Standards Act.
“This is a significant victory for these workers and their families,” said Jerry Dias, national president of Unifor, in a written release on Tuesday. “It is simply appalling that a company as large as Navistar could be so heartless as to deny its long-serving and dedicated workers the money they are legally owed.
“Navistar’s greed hurt many families for years as this fight continued,” Dias added. “That is inexcusable. The union never gave up on helping its members, and today that dedication has paid off.”
Former Navistar employee Ken Melnyk said, “definitely, we’re relieved,” when contacted Tuesday by The Chatham Daily News about the severance victory.
Echoing Dias’ comments about the impact of having to wait so long for severance and pension payouts, Melnyk said, “it’s unfortunate, because there’s quite a few people who lost their houses and lost their families . . . basically.”
He added he was fortunate his wife had a job so they were able to muddle through until he was lucky enough to land a pretty good job at another factory in town.
Les Danielski, 59, said the severance victory is “great news” when contacted by The Daily News.
“I knew it would come sometime, I was just hoping I wouldn’t die first,” said the former employee, who had 20 years of service.
Unable to find a job when production ceased, Danielski went back to school.
Since he was last interviewed by The Daily News in early March of 2012, Danielski said he has earned degrees in science and labour studies and social justice, and is one course shy of a sociology degree. He also only five classes from completed a family and social relations degree.
But, he currently owes nearly $140,000 in OSAP debt.
“It’s going to be really nice to retire, because school at my age . . . it’s not what you want to be doing,” he laughed.
Melnyk, who worked 18 years at the plant, also indicated he is looking forward to seeing how much closer the pension and severance will bring him to retirement.
“I think most people will be happy,” he said. “It’ll be nice to close the page on this book.”
Unifor national secretary-treasurer Bob Orr said, in a written release: “There was never any question that Unifor would dedicate the resources needed to bring justice for these workers.
“This was a long fight that required the full support of the national union, and that support never wavered,” he added.
The arbitration ruling states Navistar must follow the requirements under the Employment Standards Act, which provides one week of severance pay based upon regular wages for each year of service, to maximum of 26 weeks, for employees with greater than five years of service.
Unifor indicated this arbitration award is also applicable to the estates of deceased members in both Locals 127 and 35.
“This arbitration shows that even when there are clear laws in place, only a union can ensure that workers’ rights are respected,” Dias said.
More details of the arbitration ruling; as well as what former workers need to do is available online at unifor.org/navistar.