Interview with Manon Castonguay, a Local President on Strike

A leader in the heat of the action

The first woman president of Local Union 6486 at CEZinc in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Manon Castonguay is leading one of the most important battles of her life, along with her union’s 370 members, 18 of whom are women. On strike since February 12 of this year, she and her local are fighting to preserve a good pension plan, in an environment where working conditions are harsh due to exposure to heat and numerous contaminants.

Fighting from the heart

Manon Castonguay was, in 1997, the first woman employee to be hired by CEZinc. She works in the molding department, as an ingot mold operator. These days, however, she is devoting all of her energy to the labour dispute. Her determination shows in her facial expressions, can be heard in the tone of her voice, and is evident in her every gesture. She is fighting “from the heart” to obtain the best possible result for her members.

We see her, in the course of a visit to the picket line, taking the time to speak with each picketer individually. "I know almost every member by name. I treat people humanely, just as I would like to be treated. For our employer, we’re just numbers, but not for the union. That’s where my priority lies," explains the woman who has been leading her union since 2012.

Manon Castonguay expresses her leadership in a compassionate, "maternal" way. "The members are like my children. And the employer wants to hurt my children. For the employer, they’re not good enough, they don’t deserve much. That’s not acceptable! My members are the best, and I want what’s best for them. The workers I represent are much more intelligent than our employer thinks they are," adds the president of this local union, which has been part of the Steelworkers for the past 53 years.

Good listener

When asked about the qualities a good leader should have, she replies without hesitation: "You have to be a good listener, that’s what’s most important. You’ll never be able to do what your members expect of you if you don’t listen to them." Integrity and honesty round out the three most important qualities of a good leader. "You have to be there for the right reasons, to help our world, to help the members," adds this activist with determination in her voice, and a radiant smile.

Her message on March 8?

"I wish all of you the strength never to stop fighting, as individuals, as women. We deserve the best, and we must stand together to obtain it. We need to have trust in each other, between brothers and sisters."

As a unionist, Manon Castonguay is very aware of what it’s like for many women who work in a precarious work environment, having to take part-time, low-paying jobs, with non-standard schedules. "I want better conditions for all women, so that they can better provide for their families. Many are single parents, who find it hard to make ends meet."

Our wish for Manon Castonguay is a good settlement at the end of this strike, for her and for all of our members at CEZinc.

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