CAA workers in London, Kitchener, Waterloo, Guelph and Cambridge have been on strike since Oct. 29. The main issues are wages and working conditions and the workers, organized with Teamsters Local 879, have been holding rotating pickets at each south central Ontario store. On Feb. 4, Fightback activists went out to show solidarity and bolster the picket line in Guelph. Despite freezing weather and small numbers, the workers have shown incredible courage in continuing to hold down the line.

One of the key issues which led to this strike is overwork. On the picket line, workers expressed their anger at often being forced to do the work of five people. To add insult to injury, their pay has been cut below a livable wage. Wages at CAA are tied to commission in a ‘tier system’, and due to a decrease in travel during the pandemic, most workers were unable to make commissions. In essence, they have been punished for a pandemic which they have no control over. 

At the same time CAA received the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS). The workers we spoke to said they had no clue where the money from CEWS went. Though there has been a drop in travel due to the pandemic, CAA’s home and auto insurance division remained profitable. Despite the funding from the CEWS and the record profits being made by the insurance division, CAA has forced workers who have been with the company for over 30 years into near minimum wage conditions. It is clear to the workers that this isn’t about an inability to pay them fairly, but an unwillingness to do so. 

When speaking about how negotiations with CAA had gone thus far, one worker expressed that “there was no negotiations, it was basically ‘take it or leave it’.” After the workers voted against accepting the insulting contract offer initially put forward by the company, CAA ignored their request to return to the negotiating table for the entire month of December. Like many other companies during the pandemic, CAA has adopted a policy of withholding and starving out the union. 

The conditions facing CAA workers are not an anomaly. Workers across the country are seeing their wages fall far behind inflation. Essential workers like nurses and teachers are desperately overworked. In the context of universally deteriorating working conditions, the CAA workers are bravely standing up and fighting back for good, union jobs. To help them win this fight, the whole of the labour movement must show solidarity and uphold the slogan, “an injury to one is an injury to all”. 

This must start with workers at CAA. Currently, non-teamsters workers are unfortunately crossing the picket line and have continued to go to work. Crossing a picket line only benefits the boss as it weakens the impact of the strike and divides the workers. A victory for the CAA workers would not only benefit the workers organized with Teamsters but all workers at CAA and the broader working class as a whole.

A victory would push back against the vicious spiral of low wages and embolden workers to fight back against the bosses. This is especially important with the ongoing erosion of wages and living standards as inflation continues to rise. It is therefore in the interest of all working class people and the labour movement as a whole to support the CAA workers in their struggle. Workers are being made to pay for the pandemic, and it is up to the whole of the labour movement to use class struggle methods to fight back.