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Recent news reports indicate that the GM plant between Walker Rd and Kildare has been sold for demolition and that a garbage recycling firm will be building a plant in that location. According to Doug Schmidt in the Windsor Star, the plan “…is for construction of a $200-million recycling facility designed to handle garbage brought in by rail and then treated by plasma gasification, a process purported to produce no harmful emissions or toxic waste. Plasco Energy Group Inc., which has been running a pilot project in Ottawa and is in the midst of public meetings for a full-scale plant given the green light by city council there, describes the process as “decomposition not combustion” of wastes in an environmentally friendlier way than traditional incineration or even landfilling.”
The report has galvanized Windsorites because of concern over the location of the plant and that the plant in reality is just some kind of incinerator. In a city with the highest unemployment rate in the country and with a skimpy recycling system in place – for instance we have no organic waste collection as many other cities have – the fear is the city will accept any project on the grounds it will create jobs and the city would not have to bother expanding its recycling capabilities. A meeting of concerned activists will have occurred August 17 at 11 AM at the Citizens Environmental Alliance to discuss this announcement and the fact that incinerator operators are on the prowl for places to set up shop.
Joining me by phone in the first half hour was Windsor native Liz Benneian, founder of the Ontario Zero Waste Coalition and Manager of Public Education and Communications for the Oakvillegreen Conservation Association. Asked about the meeting she’d be attending Benneian described what she’d bring to the meeting and gave a brief rundown on the history of incineration in Ontario as well as other fight backs:
In this segment, Benneian describes working at the local level to make change:
In the second half hour we heard from Derek Coronado, coordinator of the Citizens Environment Alliance on this issue and the state of Windsor’s recycling program.
In this segment he gives a local perspective on the news reports of a possible incinerator site and queries the term in the Windsor Star headline of “recyclery”, a term it seems is reserved for refurbishing bicycles :
Klinec Manufacturing Workers
On Monday, Aug. 13, non-union workers at Klinec Manufacturing walked off the job after being told to take a $3 an hour pay cut from $13.80 an hour to the minimum wage of $10.75. A neighbour who has led campaigns against this company, for trucks on the residential street for example, saw the workers gathering outside the plant and alerted CAW representative Ken Lewenza Jr. I became involved as a worker advocate at the Windsor Workers’ Action Centre after hearing media reports and was invited to a strategy meeting with the workers on Tuesday, Aug 14 with the Klinec workers. There the workers explained their situation, the abuse they have suffered in the form of yelling and things being thrown by supervisors to make production go faster, of inconsistent shifts with inadequate breaks, and health and safety lacking. Many of the workers have been there for 10 to 16 years and put up with the inhumane working conditions since they were making what approached a living wage in a city with the highest unemployment rate in the country. But a three dollar an hour pay cut was asking too much.
Approximately 50 people, many of them CAW members, and me for the WWAC, gathered at the gates of the company to prevent trucks and other workers from entering who had already been called up by the owner the day before. It was real solidarity among community members and the workers were buoyed by that because they had a tough decision to make – and to be clear it was theirs to make and they choose dignity over further exploitation by turning down an insulting offer by an employer who never viewed as more than an unavoidable expense. The mood was high at the end of the afternoon after the third negotiation attempt failed to resolve the issue of wages. At that point the employer provided figures showing his tax arrears and other debts and this information, if accurate, indicated a business going under for lack of a proper cash flow. The employer said he expected more contracts to come in but the workers would not put any trust in his words. The workers could see they were screwed anyhow and if they went back to work it could likely be to simply pack up the last shipments and be stiffed out of their last wages. It was a brave decision and one made in defiance of all they had put up with.
As this story continues to unfold the employer did provide the final pay cheques and paperwork for EI. It remains to be seen if the workers will have to fight for EI if the agency denies their claim for EI. Workers should not have to put up with inhumane working conditions only to be bullied once again with a cut to their wages. There are lessons here for all workers in precarious employment without unions, benefits, pensions and so on. Things will only get worse if we do not take a stand for fairness and justice in the workplace. How low can wages go if we think we can maintain a civil society? How long can we put up with a race to the bottom while income inequality rises and the rich get richer and workers get poorer? The answers lay in community engagement and solidarity building, in finding ways to create democratic control of the economy and create new ones with worker cooperatives for example. It was a wonderful experience to be with these workers on the line and get to know them and for them to see that others in the community wanted to be in solidarity with them simply because it was the right thing to do. I’ll keep reporting on the fallout from this event and efforts will continue to help workers empower themselves in an increasingly predatory work world.
Featured CD in honour of the Klinec workers:
Sample track: Factory Gates: