JOHN ROBBINS/Bullet News
FORT ERIE – Niagara Falls Liberal MPP Kim Craitor says he has asked Ontario’s minister of labour to contact his federal counterpart in hopes getting some help for more than 100 workers left out in the cold when their U.S.-owned company declared bankruptcy.
Craitor said Sunday he has been in contact with provincial Labour Minister Yasir Naqvi and his staff to provide them with a briefing on the situation facing former employees of Vertis Communications in Stevensville.
In January, the employees were summarily terminated without severance pay.
The Eagle Street printing plant is now closed and the equipment is being removed from the building according to union officials.
Craitor says he’s hoping Ottawa can find a way to assist the employees through a federal labour adjustment program known as the Wage Employees Protection Plan.
“I have spoken directly with the minister and his staff on this issue,” Craitor said in an email to Bullet News.
“The (provincial) minister will be talking directly to (union officials) on Monday or Tuesday.”
Craitor continued: “I have urged the (provincial) minister of labour to contact the federal minister of labour to ask the two governments to work on this file together, and as well have the employees covered under the Wage Employees Protection Plan.”
Meanwhile, Craitor said provincial ministry is looking into the case.
“The Legal Department is reviewing this situation,” said Craitor. “They have never seen a case like this before.”
In January, workers were called to a meeting and told the plant was closing effective immediately.
The move came after the assets of its U.S.-parent company was sold through bankruptcy proceedings to another American firm, Quad Graphics.
That company did not purchase the Fort Erie facility, which was previously known as American Color Graphics.
Union officials immediately decried the closure, urging the company to live up to its “legal and moral obligations.”
“A company does not have the right to shut down without notice or compensation for the employees that have worked for them, many for most of their lives,” Dan Wickson, president of CEP Local 425G, said in a statement the following day.
It’s still unclear what, if anything, legally can be done to aid the workers, who were told there would be no severance payments made.
For weeks, a group of workers working in shifts have picketed outside the plant, holding up vehicles entering and leaving the facility in hope that this kind of pressure and public attention will result in the company taking a different stance.
This past weekend, workers demonstrated outside a Niagara Falls hotel where a fundraiser for Niagara Falls Conservative MP Rob Nicholson was being held.
The workers want Ottawa to step up to the plate and help their cause, which has also gained support from provincial and federal New Democrats.
Recently, Welland NDP MPP Cindy Forster and Welland NDP MP Malcolm Allen visited the workers on the picket line in Stevensville as a show of solidarity.
Craitor has also been down to the line and has been in regular contact with union officials offering whatever assistance is available from his office.
Forster later raised the workers’ concerns in the Ontario Legislature, question what the province and feds are prepared to do.
“If US Vertis Communications is not responsible for the workers’ severance pay and Quad Graphics is not responsible for the workers’ severance pay, who is going to ensure that Ontario workers’ rights for severance pay are upheld?” asked Forster.
“What are the Wynne Liberal government and the Harper Conservative government going to do to ensure that when foreign companies invest in this province and open in this province that workers’ rights are protected under provincial and federal employment legislation?
“The government is supposed to be there for the people.”
As Forster’s comments were read in the House as a Members’ Statement, there was no immediate response from the government benches.
Jim Thibert, general manager of the Fort Erie Economic Development and Tourism Corp., says while the federal government has a responsibility, so too does Queen’s Park, which has been largely silent on the issue.
“Ontario is not exempt on this matter either,” Thibert said in a letter sent to the editors of local media outlets this past weekend.
“MPP Kim Craitor has been involved with this matter and been engaged in meetings and teleconferences with the union and workers and their lawyer and the EDTC, he has brought this to the attention of the ministry of labour as it was happening in real time.
“For some reason, they (the province) have taken no apparent action, although I am sure these workers would appreciate hearing differently if so.”