The Skilled Workers of Avro Canada
Much is published about the Avro Engineers and the advanced aircraft that they designed, and very little about the highly skilled workforce that actually created the tools, dies, jigs, fasteners and physically built the aircraft. This article is the history of the workers of CAW Local 1967, the men and women that built the Aircraft.
Without these people, paper plans are just paper plans, and engineering dreams.
The Life and Near – Death of the Aircraft Industry in Malton
by Glenn Bedell
The National Steel Car Company began planning construction of the Malton, Ontario location in 1936, on the west side of Airport Road, adjacent to Toronto Airport - - now L. B. Pearson International. The first building was completed in early 1938.
Tooling and production operation began in April of 1938 to build Lysander Army Co. operative Aircraft.
The company became a part of the Canadian Associated Aircraft Company.
Contracts for many different aircraft were allotted to the National Steel Car Company and it continuously increased its workforce until 1943. At that time there were 7,397 workers employed - - 2,165 female and 5,232 male.
The government sponsored Victory Aircraft Company was established in 1942.
The International Association of Machinists (I.A.M.), an American Federation of Labor (A.F.L.) affiliate, began a campaign to unionize the plant workers in 1939, and Aeronautical Local Lodge 717 was established.
Negotiations for a first collective bargaining agreement were started in 1941. It became necessary for the union to seek the help of the Canadian Department of Munitions and Supply to finally reach an agreement in 1942. It was retroactive to June 1, 1941. Some of the provisions of that first agreement were: six days of eight hours per day; six holidays; shift premium of five cents per hour. Hourly wage rates were: tool-and-die maker 80¢ to 95¢; production workers 52¢ to 75¢; labourer 52¢. The agreement said that seniority would be considered by the company when layoffs are necessary. There were no vacations and no group insurance. The term of the agreement was one year.
Victory Aircraft continued to expand the plant and the company hired more workers who became members of the I.A.M. eventually a three-shift operation in the manufacturing division was established.
During the war years it was the policy of the union to negotiate one-year agreements. Because of the government wage controls, negotiated increases were relatively small and had to be approved by the Federal Wage and Price Control Board.
World War II saw the Canadian government decide to extract money from workers’ pay through the Income Tax and Compulsory Savings legislation.
In 1942 work began on tooling-up for the famous Lancaster Bomber. Additional floor space had been constructed and more workers were hired. By 1944 there were 9,373 employees consisting of 3,136 women and 6,237 men and hiring continued. In the following years work continued until the end of hostilities in 1945. At that time the Canadian and British air Forces discontinued buying military aircraft. The loss of sales by Victory Aircraft resulted in massive layoffs of workers. It is estimated that 10,000 to 12,000 lost their jobs. Many “feeder plants” were affected as well. A few skilled-trades people were retained to dismantle the tools and equipment.
During the war years commuter trains operated to carry workers from Toronto. A temporary train-station was set up east of Airport Road to drop off and pick up passengers.
In 1945 the A.V. Roe Division of the British Hawker-Siddely Corporation decided to build a turbo-jet propelled passenger airplane at the Malton location. It was named the Jetliner. The company was named A. V. Roe (Avro) Aircraft Company of Canada.
At the same time the Royal Canadian Air Force (R.C.A.F.) had decided, through the government, to contract with Avro Canada to build a two-engine all-weather fighter-interceptor aircraft.
Avro assembled a design team from Britain and Canada and began work on the design of the airframe and turbo-jet engines for these two airplane types. When the designs were completed, tooling operations were started for the new fighter-interceptor.
The R.C.A.F. designation was CF100.
Another experimental aircraft was being developed and built: a flying saucer design. It was under security control and was designated Avrocar.
A hand-built prototype of the jetliner was built by the skilled workers on the shop floor with minimum tooling. This prototype airplane was flown in Canada, U.S.A. and Britain to promote sales. The first flight was in August 1949. Trans-Canada Airlines (T.C.A.), now Air Canada, tendered a provisional order for 30 production models. The T.C.A. order was cancelled in 1950 on the orders of the Federal Minister of Transport, C. D. Howe (the American in the Canadian Federal Cabinet) and production of Jetliners was discontinued.
Avro had hired many former employees of Victory Aircraft Company as well as some new workers - - mostly men and approximately 1,400 in number. The I.A.M. continued to represent the workers and collective bargaining began.
In 1951 property was acquired by the company on the south side of Derry Road, east of Airport Road, and the engine division of Avro was moved to these new buildings , and a new engine company was formed: Orenda Engines Limited. Three types of turbo-jet engines were designed and built at Orenda.
Employees who had worked in the Avro engine division transferred to the new company and the union set up two local lodges: 717Turbo and 717Aircraft. During the Avro time, the office workers in both companies were organized and to office and technical lodges were formed: lodges 1922 and 2030. District Lodge 717 was established for the four locals. Eventually joint bargaining policies were developed by the union and master agreements were signed. The International union had changed its name to International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (I.A.M.A.W.). The lengths of agreements were gradually increased over the years.
A subsidiary company was established on the east side of Airport Road: The Canadian Applied Research Company.
Work at Avro and Orenda continued on the manufacture of the CF100 until 1956.
A new R.C.A.F. requirement for a super-sonic interceptor aircraft was announced and designs for an airframe and turbo-jet engine were begun in 1950. Tooling began soon after. The first CF105-Avro Arrow was rolled of the assembly line on October 4, 1957.
In 1958 the U.S.S.R. put a small satellite into orbit around the earth as its contribution to the International Geophysical Year. They called it “Sputnik I”. This feat indicated that they had a rocket powerful enough to deliver an inter-continental missile. Panic ensued in military circles in the west, especially the U.S.A. it was conjecture that rocket-propelled ballistic missiles were the weapons of the future.
In 1959 the Canadian Conservative government under Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, decided to scrap the Avro Arrow and buy US built Bomarc missiles instead. Employees of Avro Aircraft and Orenda Engines were told, over the public address systems, on the morning of “Black Friday”, February 20, 1959 that they would be laid-off at the end of shift that day. They were given two weeks’ pay in lieu of notice and were entitled to up to two years’ recall rights regardless of longer seniority.
All production stopped!
The flying saucer, Avro Car, was sold to a US company.
More then ten thousand workers lost their jobs in the two plants and offices. Many additional workers in subsidiaries and feeder-plants were adversely affected as well. The Orenda built Engine design was sold to a US engine company. All design data, including blueprints for the Avro Arrow were burned or otherwise destroyed. All Avro Arrow airplanes in production and completed, were cut up and sold for scrap.
Some workers were recalled to work on sub-contracted parts production and the building of aluminum boats. These jobs did not last very long and people were laid off and recalled several times.
In 1961 the Douglas Aircraft Company in the U.S.A. announced plans to produce a mid-size commercial aircraft; the DC9. Employees of Avro were given to understand that the Avro Company had entered a bid to build the whole aircraft.
In 1962 DeHavilland Aircraft of Downsview, Ontario decided to expand its operations and purchase the facilities of Avro Aircraft and Canadian Applied Research. DeHavilland began tooling up for parts of their commuter aircraft, in the Malton plant. DeHavilland also acquired the contract from Douglas to build wing-sets and the tail section for the DC9. Tooling began on that project as well.
Canadian Applied Research Company was merged with a DeHavilland subsidiary special projects company and they became Special Products and Applied Research Company (SPAR). It was located in Toronto.
When the Avro workers returned from vacation in 1962 they were offered employment with DeHavilland and were told they would have to pay dues to Locals 112 and 673 of the United Automobile, Aircraft and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (U.A.W.), another international union. A dispute arose over jurisdiction between the I.A.M.A.W. and the U.A.W.
The Ontario Labour Relations Board ruled in favour of the U.A.W. The I.A.M.A.W. intervened a year later but were not successful in their attempt to sign up workers. DeHavilland continued in operation and the U.A.W. entered into negotiations in 1965. Negotiations failed and U.A.W. Local 112 called a strike. After a few weeks of strike, the company made a new offer and the strikers ratified a new agreement on the bargaining committee’s recommendation.
In 1966 Douglas Aircraft Company of U.S.A. decided to take back the DC 9 contracts and bought the Malton/Mississauga location from De Havilland. De Havilland removed its tooling for the commuter aircraft, and Douglas Aircraft of Canada - - a new company - - continued tooling and building of DC 9 components. Workers who had transferred from Downsview to Malton/Mississauga and employed by De Havilland were given the choice of returning. A new collective bargaining agreement was signed with Douglas.
The Douglas Aircraft Company (U.S.A.) designed a new, large, commercial aircraft; the DC 10 and allotted the building of wing-sets to Douglas Canada (DACAN). The U.A.W. continued to represent the workers.
In 1967 the shop-floor workers at the Mississauga DACAN plant decided to form their own U.A.W. Local Union. It was called Centennial Aerospace Local 1967, U.A.W., and the assets of Local 112 were divided between the two local unions. Local 1967 began publishing a newspaper, the “Local Review”.
In 1971 Locals 1967 and 673 opened negotiations with DACAN, and after lengthy talks the company had made no offer, so the two Locals went on strike. After about two months of this strike the company made an offer. This offer was judged to be within the guidelines set by American President, Richard Nixon: the Nixon Wage-Freeze and was rejected by Local 1967, but accepted by Local 673. The Local 1967 strike continued. The Canadian Director of the U.A.W. and the International Executive Board tried to persuade the striking workers to reconsider. The strikers still refused. The International officers then cut off strike pay and forced Local 1967 members back to work. the Local Bargaining Committee refused to sign the agreement and the Canadian Director and International officers signed it and imposed a new agreement.
Subsequent to the imposed agreement the company attacked the local union. Supervisors refused union business passes to Shop Stewards and Plant Committee members. A General Foreman continually harassed the Bargaining Committee in the Plant Chairperson’s office. The company refused to settle major grievances and the union had to take them to arbitration. The company suspended and fired Stewards and other union activists for union activities and the workers became very angry. Some job actions took place.
In 1973 the Plant Chairperson and the Bargaining Committee were fired for “planning an illegal strike”. No strike took place. The union took the case to arbitration. One Bargaining Committee member, whose case was heard separately, was suspended without pay for three months and was returned to work by the arbitrator. The other four were not so lucky. Their case was heard jointly by another arbitrator and he confirmed the firing. The union appealed the case in the courts to the highest level and finally lost.
It was revealed in a court case not related to the happenings at DACAN, that the company had employed a private detective agency - - Centurion Investigations - - to infiltrate Local 1967 and cause trouble. Three episodes were revealed in that case:
1. They had placed a bomb, with no fuse, in the Plant Chairperson’s car;
2. They assaulted a black member of the Local’s Executive Board and tried to blame the Plant Chairperson;
3. Fights were deliberately started on the 1971 picket lines;
There were many other troubles in the Local.
During the later course of events the McDonnell Aircraft Company of the U.S.A. gained control of Douglas Aircraft and the McDonnell-Douglas Company was formed. The Malton plant became McDonnell-Douglas Canada (MDCAN) and continued building DC9 and DC10 components.
The Orenda Engines Company continued to operate at a low level of employment, but never designed or built another engine after Black Friday. The U.S. based Pratt and Whitney Company has an interest in it and engine parts have been manufactured for them and other engine companies. In the 1988 negotiations with Orenda, the I.A.M.A.W. was not able to reach agreement with the company and the shop floor Local Lodge 717T went on strike in November. It was a very bitter strike. The company regularly transported scabs across the picket line with the help of the Peel Regional Police. Mysteriously tires were slashed and windows were broken before the buses reached the plant. The strike lasted until July 1989 when a settlement was reached, with some government help.
The company is now called Magellan-Orenda and the workforce is about 400.
Meanwhile back at McDonnell-Douglas Canada, many new components for McDonnell-Douglas airplanes were assigned to MDCAN until the Boeing Aircraft Company of the U.S.A. bought McDonnell-Douglas and began phasing out the McDonnell-Douglas product line. This served to reduce employment at the new Boeing Toronto Ltd. (Malton) location. Layoffs continue at present. The workforce stands at less than 300 workers in the plant and office. The company has sold a large portion of the property and all indications appear to be that the plant will close although the Boeing Company will not admit to closure plans.
The two local unions, Local 1967 and Local 673, have negotiated a ‘Security-Closure Agreement’ with company in case of closure. The agreement includes - - upon announcement of closure - - severance pay, performance bonus, unreduced early retirement, transition pay, extended benefits and small continual pension increases for retirees. Local 1967 retirees and surviving spouses number approximately 2,000 and are members of the Local’s very active Retirees’ Chapter. They are actively involved in both the Local and the community. The author of this piece is the Chairperson of CAW Local 1967 Retirees’ Chapter.
On January 13, 2005 the Boeing Company announced that they would be closing their Boeing Toronto facility on or about July 15, 2005. On August 12, 2005 the last few CAW Local 1967 represented employees, walked out the plant gates for the last time.
|Reprinted with Permission, Dan McNeil|
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