Striking First Ontario Credit Union workers have no regrets after they occupied the company’s east Mountain branch and padlocked the doors to try to get the financial institution back to the bargaining table.
Hamilton police smashed the glass on a door to gain entry to the Queensdale and Upper Sherman Avenue branch to end the occupation an hour after it began at 3 p. m. yesterday.
About 70 members of Local 343 of the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union (COPE) have been on strike for six months over such issues as sick pay, benefits and language protecting full-time positions. Negotiators from the two sides met Tuesday but there was no resolution.
“It was worthwhile because we’ve raised public awareness,” said Barb Rowell, chief steward for the negotiating committee, shortly after she and a dozen other protesters left the premises at about 5 p. m. after being spoken to by police.
“We’ve made our members realize we are very serious about this. We will not leave any stone unturned to end this labour dispute successfully.”
Valery Gavey, who worked in the credit union’s head office above the branch, said the firm had pushed the workers into such a drastic move. Ten managers were in the branch, and though they were told they could leave, none did. There were no customers inside when the strikers padlocked the doors.
“We’ve tried everything,” said Gavey, who was greeted with hugs, kisses and cheers when she walked out of the branch and into the arms of other strikers and about 70 supporters from other unions such as the United Steelworkers and Canadian Auto Workers.
Brenda Moulton, who worked in mortgage administration, broke down and cried. “The reason I did this is because I have four kids. I’m on strike. My husband lost his job. I had to do something. They have no idea what I’m going through.”
The women were not charged, but police told them their actions remain under investigation and they could face charges. They were allowed to leave and were told not to set foot on the property again.
Don Fraser, president of the Hamilton and District Labour Council, was inside with the union members. He is alleged to have tried to stop police from entering the branch by holding the door. He was arrested, handcuffed and told he’d be charged with obstructing police.
First Ontario Credit Union president and chief executive officer John Lahey said he was disappointed.
“I don’t know why they would think that action would have any bearing on negotiations since we’re talking about business issues and we’re talking about making sure the credit union is competitive in the future,” he said.
Lahey said the credit union will consider its options in the next few days, but said it would like to resolve the labour dispute. He acknowledged after six months the strikers could legally be denied their jobs, but said the credit union was not contemplating any drastic action.
“It’s a difficult set of negotiations, but the credit union is not being unreasonable in my opinion,” said Lahey, adding the cost per hour for jobs is about $35. “They’re pretty well-paying jobs.”