BOWMANVILLE, Ont. - Dozens of workers set up picket lines outside the St. Marys Cement plant in this eastern Ontario town on Sunday over proposed changes to their pension plan.

The walkout follows two months of intensive negotiations between the Canadian Auto Workers and the Toronto-based company.

Currently, the workers have a defined-benefit plan, meaning the amount of their pensions is fixed.

Similar plans across Canada have found themselves deeply in the red in recent years, mostly due to low interest rates, leaving companies which sponsor the plans scrambling to make up the shortfall.

CAW national representative Keith Osborne said the company wants to change the plan structure to a defined-contribution plan, which could mean lower benefits on retirement.

"A defined-contribution plan means that the worker cannot ever be guaranteed what he'll get when he retires because it's up to the market," Osborne said.

"The company wanted to take the risk of liability off their books and put it onto the workers."

St. Marys Cement, which has six plants including the one in Bowmanville, Ont., has not commented on the dispute.

The company is a major aggregate producer and one of Canada's largest quarry, gravel and cement operations.

Almost 90 workers, who have been without a contract since Jan. 31, are now off the job.

Osborne said he expected the strike to be lengthy, a point pressed home at a membership meeting on Friday night, where workers opted for the walkout rather than accept the pension-plan change.

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