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CONTRIBUTION · 1st November 2010
Sean O’Driscoll
In the months since I took the position of Business Agent I have spent what I feel is an inordinate amount of time dealing with issues at the District of Kitimat, the workers of which are represented by CAW Local 2300. It has been an extremely disappointing and frustrating enterprise in trying to resolve issues with DOK management. We held a labour management meeting a few months ago and it became patently clear that DOK management has little or no interest in working with the Union to resolve issues. For starters, DOK management did not want to even entertain the idea of having joint minutes for a meeting which is intended to be a venue for the parties to engage in joint problem-solving. For its part, DOK management sees labour-management meetings as a venue for the parties to agree to disagree and nothing more.

The Union has attempted, with no success, to try to resolve grievances before going to arbitration. For example, we have one case of a manager performing bargaining unit work for a whole week slated for arbitration next spring. The Union wanted to resolve this case by having the manager bring a worker along to impart training, a reasonable resolve which the DOK rejected. Now get this. A DOK supervisor continues to refuse to sign grievance forms for a particular shop steward because the same shop steward refused to sign a performance evaluation he disagreed with number of years ago. Our tax dollars pay for this kind of petty childishness.

The biggest problem the Union is facing when dealing with DOK management is its outright refusal to resolve issues when it feels it has “management rights” to do what it is doing and its refusal to consult with the Union when making changes in the workplace due to its belief that “it doesn’t have to”. This adversarial attitude is in stark contrast to the relationship we have, despite our differences, with Rio Tinto Alcan. A case in point would be RTA’s decision to change the shifts at the beginning of the summer in reduction maintenance. By the book, area management could very well have been within its rights to make the changes it was considering, but to its credit after consulting with the crew and Union representatives a workable solution was found. That is an example of good labour relations. The DOK does not, and will not, engage in good labour relations.

Section 2(d) of the code states that one of the duties of the parties under the Code is to act in a manner that “encourages cooperative participation between employers and trade unions in resolving workplace issues…” This speaks to actively trying to resolve issues outside of as well as within the grievance procedure. This is what good labour relations is all about, a notion which is repugnant to the DOK.

But the grievance procedure is only one avenue open to the Union to deal with workplace issues as one of the issues is clearly DOK management itself. We can also get political.

As I referred to in a recent e-mail to our plant distribution list Mayor and Council do not appear to want to take our Union seriously. When Brother Abreu and myself presented our members’ position on the municipal budget in the spring we were effectively dismissed by the Councilor’s present and the Municipal Manager, despite representing the majority of taxpayer’s in our community. More recently, Union representatives requested a meeting with the Mayor and any available councilor in order to present information regarding the treatment of one of the District’s workers. This request was denied on the advice of “administration” as the result of some statute, which was not cited. What, do we need administration’s permission to talk to our Mayor in the supermarket about some issue of concern to us? If this isn’t a case of the “tail wagging the dog”, I don’t know what is. If we were RTA or Enbridge requesting a meeting I’m sure the response would have been different.

Therein lays the problem. We have only ourselves to blame if, as a political entity, we have become insignificant. To turn this around a few things need to happen. Firstly, we need to establish ourselves, once again, as a political voice in the community. This is, after all, a union town and as such the majority of voters are union members. The Union’s issues must become our politicians’ issues. Secondly, if an established union voice is not listened to by our politicians then we must replace our politicians. Currently, our Mayor and Council do not have the confidence or support of this Union as we are not being listened to or having our issues addressed. The message must be clear: shape up or be shipped out in 2011. A good place for our politicians to start would be to direct DOK management to resolve issues without wasting taxpayers’ and our Union members’ money on hiring law firms to fight the same taxpayers and Union members. If DOK management doesn’t adhere to the direction it has been given, then it should be dismissed. In any event, the wheels are already in motion to have a Mayor and Council in 2011 which is prepared to do this.