By Gerry Barker
August 8, 2017
Years ago, I was employed by Magna International. I was named general manager of a venture to create a new Canadian business magazine titled Vista. In a few months I learned a lot about Magna’s manufacturing ability. The company was creating record business, making a wide variety of parts for new vehicles for the majority of auto manufacturers.
The concept of on-time delivery of those parts to the assembly plants located all over North America and Europe at that time was fairly new. Magna had many manufacturing facilities throughout Canada and the U.S. to meet the strict deadlines for each assembly plant. Their success in meeting those deadlines made the assembly operations more efficient.
I recall that the most pressing need was for tool and die makers. It forced the company to import trained personnel mostly from Frank Stonach’s homeland, Austria, to create the parts. If Canadian authorities had prevented the import of skilled technicians, Magna would not be the company it is today, a world leader in not only supplying parts but also assembling complete vehicles.
The parallels between Magna and Linamar are striking. Both companies were each founded by two skilled immigrants who had the vision of building great corporations.
That was almost 60 years ago and cultures change, people change and so do attitudes.
Last year, Linamar applied to the Department of Employment Social Development Canada to hire 15 foreign-trained electricians. The company argued that they could not retain Canadian electricians. Linamar stated that when they were successful hiring Canadoan electricians, they left for a number of reasons. Those reasons varied from shift work to low wages and benefits.
The department denied the request in 2016 so Linamar appealed to have its case reviewed by Justice Luc Martineau. He supported the decision by the federal employment department and last month rejected the application as published by Guelph Today’s reporter, Tony Saxon.
The Justice heard evidence from the Electrical Workers Construction Council of Canada, representing unionized electrical workers, that there was a high unemployment rate of electricians in the Guelph area. The source of that information was never revealed.
That seems to fly in the face of the claims by the city administration that Guelph has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Canada. Are the qualified electricians alledgedly the only worker group that is unemployed in the Guelph Area?
Keep in mind that Linamar emplys 6,000 workers in Guelph, none of whom are members of a union.
Also, keep in mind that Linamar is the largest non-public employer and taxpayer operating in Guelph with 19 plants to meet its contract obligations with auto industry customers.
When the importation of skilled foreign workers helped Magna grow and prosper, why is Linamar being denied the same right in 2017?
Now, Guelph is a city where there is a large number of unionized public workers. For example, the city employs some 2,100 of which 80 per cent are unionized and the balance belong to a management association. It is estimated that there are more than 5,800 employees in the city being paid from the public purse. That includes the University of Guelph, Guelph Hydro, Guelph/Wellington Public Health services, Guelph General Hospital and the St. Joseph’s Senior Living and Rehab Centre, Ontario service employees, and Federal government employees
The Ontario Liberal government has allowed the growth of these public unions, the number of which has grown exponentially in the past 14 years of the McGuinty/Wynne Liberal governments. Not only has public employee wages and benefits soared but their numbers have increased substantially. In that space of time, the growth of the public sector employees has far outstripped that of the non-union corporations.
The Saxon story generated a lot of comments, mostly attacking Linamar’s employment practices. The main beefs, according to the comments was the company’s shift times that were hard on workers, and also the average pay per hour was only $20. This shift system is described as the “continental” when workers are required to work 12-hour shifts and change starting times every two weeks. Based on that, it would appear that Linamar workers are working slighly more than three days in a 40-hour week.
Given the circumstances, it appears the Electrical Workers Council is denying a major Guelph corporation the right to hire skilled electricians from outside Canada. That is a striking example of a union-based organization protecting its turf. As a former union member and shop steward, I recognize the role of organized labour and the right of collective bargaining.
In this case, the eeelectrical workersw union council has stepped over the line and interfered with the operation of a major Canadian company that is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
We’re talking here about hiring 15 skilled employees because the Canadian electricians don’t want to leave the cocoon of their trade union to work in a non-union shop.
The fact that a federal government department is supporting suppression of hiring skilled foreign workers, particularly when 47,000 Syrian refugees were allowed in last year, did the Trudeau government specify that no electricians would be permitted entry?