By Rick Pusiak
Sudbury's forgotten strike literally heated up last week. A small wooden picket shed in the parking lot outside Marona Kitchen Manufacturing on Valley View Road burned to the ground Wednesday morning.
The criminal investigation branch of the Sudbury police service was called in to investigate and the matter is now listed as an arson case. The 10- by 10-foot shed with the words "on strike" spray painted on the doors had been headquarters for picketers since April 2.
Seven employees hit the pavement that day following a break down in talks for a first collective agreement. Employees organized under Industrial Wood and Allied Workers of Canada (IWA) Local 2693 in September of 2000 and contract negotiations started late that year.
Picket line captain Elaine Gosselin has heard someone driving by the shed phoned the fire department when they spotted the blaze. Police in turn called Gosselin and alerted her about what had happened.
A picket shed is a must during a lengthy strike that drags on through winter months.
"That's where we went to keep warm," said Gosselin.
The strikers had wanted to relocate to the busier Lasalle Boulevard outside the Marona owned La Cuisine kitchen cabinet outlet.
Gosselin said at first it looked like a permit for a strike shed would be approved but suddenly the request was denied. With no strike shed and a chilly winter wind howling down Lasalle the strikers decided to stay put on Valley View Road. That particular location has been the scene of many confrontations.
The picket captain will be in court for trial June 3. Gosselin was charged with mischief and assault with a weapon (an umbrella) after a company-owned truck was damaged July 5.
The picketers are strong and determined according to their leader.
"April 2 will be a year (on the line)," said Gosselin. "We're not going to give up."
Gosselin said they would appreciate people coming out to the picket line in the valley to support them. The union is willing to resume discussions at any time.
The picket captain said the main outstanding issues in the dispute continue to be health and safety, wages and seniority. No talks have been scheduled for any future date. A statement from Marona was not available at press time.