Labour Relations: Looking for leadership on plant closings

May 13, 2010   by Ken Lewenza

Ken Lewenza is the president of the Canadian Auto Workers Union.

The shocking closure of the Siemens Energy plant in Hamilton has left more than 500 workers, their families and the entire community reeling.


Work done at the gas turbine plant is heading to a Siemens operation in North Carolina. Unfortunately, this kind of devastating news is all too common in Canada’s manufacturing heartland. We have already lost more than 500,000 manufacturing jobs across Canada. Between 2002 and 2008 we lost an average of 260 jobs every day. More recently that daily toll jumped to a staggering 550 jobs.

With so many jobs lost and so many plants closing, the pain can be numbing. But it’s important to recognize the negative impact each and every closure has on our communities.

The Siemens plant has an annual payroll of more than $33 million, much of it spent in the community, and its 350 CAW Local 504 members contribute to more than 30 community groups and events every year. Their jobs generate important spinoffs: we know that for every dollar in manufacturing activity more than $3 is generated elsewhere.

Over the last six years, Hamilton has lost an incredible 33,000 manufacturing jobs, yet it’s just one of many communities suffering because of the national manufacturing jobs crisis.

We need to fight back and challenge these corporate decisions while continuing to raise awareness of the need for government leadership.

Fight back
Siemens puts much effort into portraying itself as a good corporate citizen. It talks about its priority value as, “a commitment to ethical and responsible actions.” How does anyone square that commitment with the actions Siemens is taking in Hamilton?

Six months ago Siemens declared that it was “committed to Ontario and to the Hamilton manufacturing facility.”

For all of its size, power and public posturing, Siemens depends on taxpayers and all levels of government for a lot of its business. For example, it was awarded a major contract from GO Transit to upgrade the entire signalling and communications system in and around Toronto. It was the largest single contract ever awarded by GO and Siemens sees it as an important marketing milestone.

Siemens also brags about how the federal government’s electronic directory services is a Siemens product. And more than 18 months ago Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty was on hand for the official opening ceremonies of the Port Alma Wind Power Project located in Chatham. The project uses 44 Siemens wind turbines.

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