On the Line: Exploring the Strikes of 1970s Ontario through the IRHR Library's Collection

Women at Fleck Get the Job Done

Author: Romina Campanella, MMSt Candidate

The strike at Fleck Manufacturing is a great example of women taking action in the Canadian labour movement. Fleck was an auto wiring plant located in Centralia, Ontario with a mostly female staff. Workers at the plant endured poor working conditions for a low wage and no benefits. Workplace injuries were common with conditions that included rats, unsafe machinery, extreme temperatures, and standing in water for an entire shift.1 Sexual harassment from male supervisors was also a commonly reported problem and there were no policies in place to protect workers from this issue.2 In the fall of 1977, Fleck employees unionized with United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 1620, and during the bargaining of their first contract they asked for better working conditions, benefits, union security, and a wage increase from $2.85 to $3.20.3 Fleck refused all demands, including sexual harassment protection and the Rand formula, which would ensure the survival of the union by making union payments mandatory for all workers covered by the collective agreement.4 For months no contract was settled as the company continued to refuse demands, prompting 80 female workers at Fleck to go on strike on March 6, 1978 in an effort to ensure their union’s survival. 

The strike quickly became known as a fight for women’s rights with groups such as Organized Working Women gathering supporters from around Toronto to bolster the picket line. Supporters from other unions joined the picket as well, turning it into a mass demonstration. Tensions rose as about 40 strikebreaking workers crossed the picket line and riot police showed up along with the OPP to control the growing violence.5 Excessive police presence continued throughout the strike. The involvement of riot police was viewed by strikers as an overreaction stemming from Fleck’s close relationship with the Ontario Conservative government.6 Fleck was partially owned by Margaret Fleck, the wife of the Conservative provincial government’s Deputy Minister of Industry and Tourism James Fleck, which was a major point of contention throughout the conflict.7 Violence continued for months on the picket line as Fleck refused to budge, resulting in public criticism of the company’s actions and charges laid against them by the UAW for unfair labour practices.8 Finally, Fleck relented in August of 1978, agreeing to the Rand formula and wage increases. After Fleck, the UAW began to cover women’s issues in their demands, including maternity leave and protection against sexual harassment and assault. 

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  1. Wendy Cuthbertson, “The Fleck Strike: The women’s strike that changed labour law and the labour movement”, Rise Up Feminist Archive.
  2. Constance Backhouse, “The Fleck Strike: A Case Study in the Need for First Contract Arbitration”, Osgoode Hall Law Journal 18, no. 4 (1980): 496.
  3. J. A. Frank, “The ‘Ingredients’ in Violent Labour Conflict: Patterns in Four Case Studies”, Labour (Halifax), 12 (1983): 101.
  4. Cuthbertson, “The Fleck Strike”. 
  5. Globe and Mail, “Charges Laid During Fleck Strike Dropped by Auto Workers’ Union”, 1978.
  6. Cuthbertson, “The Fleck Strike”.
  7. Frank, “The ‘Ingredients’ in Violent Labour Conflict”, 100. 
  8. Cuthbertson, “The Fleck Strike”.

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Additional Resources

The IRHR Library also maintains an archive file on the Fleck strike, which includes various newspaper clippings and a copy of the charges filed against Fleck by the UAW. 

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