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Toromont breaks silence on union negotiations


Dear Editor: Recently, the news media has reported on comments made in a letter from Mike Ezekiel, Business Manager of Local 904 of the Washington, D.C.-based Internat-ional Union of Operating Engineers, the union that has been on strike against Toromont CAT for over four months. Although we believe it is neither appropriate nor effective to attempt to negotiate a collective agreement through the media, we are compelled to respond. Some of his comments are so flagrantly wrong that they do not warrant a response but it is, frankly, irresponsible to use misinformation to inflame the situation, as Mr. Ezekiel has sought to do. Naturally, he is entitled to express his opinion, but we believe your readers have a right to the facts, which are:

Dear Editor:

Recently, the news media has reported on comments made in a letter from Mike Ezekiel, Business Manager of Local 904 of the Washington, D.C.-based Internat-ional Union of Operating Engineers, the union that has been on strike against Toromont CAT for over four months.

Although we believe it is neither appropriate nor effective to attempt to negotiate a collective agreement through the media, we are compelled to respond. Some of his comments are so flagrantly wrong that they do not warrant a response but it is, frankly, irresponsible to use misinformation to inflame the situation, as Mr. Ezekiel has sought to do. Naturally, he is entitled to express his opinion, but we believe your readers have a right to the facts, which are:

Toromont acquired the Caterpill-ar dealership in Newfoundland and Labrador in 1996. Through continued significant investment in this business and dedication from our employees, we have taken a previously unprofitable operation and made it sustainable. Although it still does not generate returns comparable to Toromont's other businesses, we believe in its prospects if we can service our customers well and manage our costs.

A core principal of Toromont CAT is that we be leaders in any of the local markets we serve. This leadership includes offering the best products and service to our customers, and the best employment and career opportunities to our employees.

Our employees enjoy the highest wages and benefits compensation in our industry and we believe our recent offer of a 13.86 per cent wage increase over the next three years should ensure this status continues.

In the current situation, we have three main concerns:

First and foremost is the safety of all of our employees, regardless of whether they are on the job or on the picket lines. Recent violence and vandalism on the picket line is a concern since this puts people at risk.

The second is that our customers continue to be served well and cost-effectively. They are, after all, why we are in business and why there are jobs at Toromont CAT. We regret any inconvenience to them and express our thanks for their continued support.

The third concern is that heightened union rhetoric has resulted in the deterioration of contract negotiations, ill will and escalating emotions culminating in inexcusable acts of violence on the picket line. As a consequence, three union members face various criminal charges, including one allegation of assault. We are convinced that the great majority of our employees do not condone or want to be associated with such violence. If the union leadership were truly interested in settling this strike, they would be at the bargaining table now.

We believe our offers have been fair and our most recent offer is generous. Unfortunately, we understand that our employees have not been given the opportunity to actually vote on our most recent offer. They deserve such an opportunity and we encourage our employees to request a proper confidential ballot vote.

Toromont CAT's intent is to continue to build a strong competitor in Newfoundland and Labrador from what was an unsustainable business. We believe this is in the best interests of all employees, the union and our shareholders. Your readers would be right to ask why the union appears to be intent on putting Toromont CAT at a competitive disadvantage against its non-unionized competitors. How does making their company uncompetitive and driving business to other companies help its local members?

Whether our employees can be back to work soon is largely up to the union and our striking workers. Spreading misinformation and putting others in danger is not the path to a mutually agreeable settlement. We hope that reason will return to guide the union and that, in a more rational environment, we can get back to serving our customers, building the business and creating new jobs for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

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