Philadelphia's trademark inflatable union rat, which showed up Thursday outside the Northeast Philadelphia corporate headquarters of Crown Holdings Inc., might be local, but the union protest at the $8.6 billion company's annual meeting was strictly global.
Organizing the protest were members of a Canadian local of the United Steelworkers union, based in Pittsburgh. The local has been on strike since September at Crown's plant near Toronto.
In Turkey, meanwhile, a similar rally, no doubt minus the rat, was canceled, the union said, after an Istanbul paper printed what it said was Crown's threat to shut the factory if a rally occurred.
"We're not going to comment, so thanks for the call," Thomas T. Fischer, Crown's vice president of investor relations, said Thursday.
In less than a week, there will be union rallies and protests at Crown facilities in Switzerland, Italy, and France, organized through global alliances formed by labor organizations worldwide.
In 2008, the Steelworkers set up Workers Uniting with the United Kingdom's largest union, Unite, which also represents workers at 11 Crown plants.
"It's obvious why unions are doing this," said Lee Adler, who teaches at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations. "This is the way one introduces leverage into the conversation with powerful multinational organizations. It not only introduces leverage, but demonstrates leverage."
It used to be that Crown Holdings made cans and containers at factories in Northeast Philadelphia. Now, there are just corporate offices.
These days, the company, once known as Crown Cork & Seal, manufactures its containers and cans at 147 plants in 40 countries.
On Wednesday, it completed its $1.6 billion acquisition of Mivisa Envases SAU, a Spanish can manufacturer, announced last year.
Attending the rally in Philadelphia were Kemal Ozkan, assistant general secretary of IndustriALL, a 50 million-member global labor federation based in Europe, and Mark Lyon of Unite. Both held shareholder proxies and attended the shareholder meeting, presided over by Crown chief executive John Conway.
Canadian steelworkers official Joseph Drexler, who also attended the meeting, said Ozkan asked Conway why Crown had not recognized a Turkish court decision ordering Crown to recognize the Turkish workers' union.
Ozkan also questioned whether the Mivisa deal was in compliance with European labor laws. Conway said it was.
Unanswered were four written questions on the Toronto situation submitted by union members who were also shareholders, Drexler said.
The chief issue there, he said, is Crown's desire to implement a two-tiered wage system, with younger workers getting much less.
Business: Design, manufacture, and sale of packaging for consumer goods, particularly steel and aluminum cans.
2013 Revenues: $8.66 billion, up from $8.47 billion.
2013 Profits: $324 million, down from $559 million
Manufacturing plants: 147 worldwide
Closing price: $47.65