CONTRIBUTION · 5th March 2015
My name is Rick Belmont and I hold the position of President of Unifor Local 2301 for the Rio Tinto Smelter workers.
My background consists of well over 30 years of Union work, fifteen of which I have served our membership as President.
During that time I sat on seven successful sets of negotiations; the last five as chair/spokesperson for our Local Union.
I have been closely following the negotiations between Unifor Local 2300 and the District of Kitimat and from day one have had some serious concerns as to how the District of Kitimat’s bargaining team has conducted themselves throughout the process.
To successfully get through a set of negotiations both parties must engage in good faith discussions. Both parties must take each other’s proposals seriously and when valid issues/problems are brought forward they must take the time and effort to address those demands.
What I have observed is District management sitting back and putting very little effort into resolving issues and basically just saying “no” to everything.
On the other hand I saw the Union Bargaining Committee day after day re-organizing, re-writing, re-packaging, and doing everything possible to promote discussion and ultimately trying to avoid a Strike.
Management’s conduct in the process can be chalked up to a number of reasons. They either don’t care about the problems, can’t be bothered to take the time and effort to address the issues, or lack the experience and confidence to engage in discussions with the Union to find common solutions.
It’s quick and easy to say “No” in trying to dismiss a Union demand but it’s also the quickest way to get to a Strike.
The proof is in the pudding because that’s exactly where they are right now.
The bargaining process has failed simply because District management refuses to engage in good faith bargaining, so the only step is appeal to their bosses (i.e. Mayor & Council) to intervene in the dilemma.
I know for a fact this was done well before it got to a full bloom Strike and that the Mayor & Council refused to get involved at the Table.
I attended and was part of the assembly at the Monday, March 2, 2015 scheduled Council Meeting. To begin with, I would like to say kudos to the three Councilors who had the fortitude, character and good sense to not only take the time to discuss some of the issues with the Unionized workers but mainly for their decision to respect the workers and their families by not crossing over the line to the meeting.
As for the new Mayor and the other Councilors who disrespected the line, I’d like them to recognize that they were voted in to solve problems and to be proactive in solving those issues; not ignore them.
In regards to the Councilors who have a Union background and fully understand the significance of legal assembly, protests and picket lines, their actions in crossing that line are inexcusable under any circumstances.
There are a number of serious questions to be answered:
1. Why wouldn’t the Town Council want to be involved to ensure there was language in the collective labour agreement to protect against exploitation of women, precarious work, safety hazards, and harassment?
2. Why shouldn’t the District's Unionized workers have their seniority rights protected, and access to proper training along with the historical wage structure that they have enjoyed for over 50 years? A wage structure that dates back to the first days of our community's existence.
3. Why has the District of Kitimat reduced the manpower and equipment levels to the point that they cannot satisfactorily provide the services that we as taxpayers have come to expect? You only have to look at that last big snowfall to see there are huge problems in this area alone. As I have discovered throughout this set of Bargaining, these deficiencies are not limited to the Public Works Yard, they are District wide!
I ask Mayor Phil Germuth, that when you were running for Mayor, you ran on a platform that things had to change or be done differently, so why aren’t you and the rest of Council directly involved to resolve this labour dispute?
If you are true to your word, then this is an excellent opportunity for you to demonstrate it.
Something is very, very wrong at the District and your employees have communicated that to you loud and clear.
Mayor Germuth, now that you have assumed responsibility for the direction of bargaining, I ask that you now listen and hear your employees with an unbiased ear.
As a long time Union activist I say my Union Brothers and Sisters in Unifor Local 2300 have rights to a fair and correct wage and a safe, harassment free workplace.
As a taxpayer I demand that, the District of Kitimat/Mayor & Council, not only enter into a plan to reinvest in and reconstitute the manpower and equipment levels which will properly service the town, but also agree to the language in the CLA which will promote harmonious relations between the Unifor Local 2300 workers and the District of Kitimat.
I strongly urge the District of Kitimat to get back to the bargaining table with the Unifor Local 2300 Bargaining Committee and that the Mayor & Council be directly involved in this process.
The longer this goes on, the more difficult it is to repair the relationship in the future. Let us not forget these Workers have families to provide for.
Unifor Local 2301
Thankyou Mr. Belmont
Comment by Vern on 8th March 2015
Thanks for trying to push the two sides back to the table as the longer the workers are off the job the more upset people get at both sides. The problem for the taxpayers is we do not know what the demands are and what is being offered so how can I support what I do not know. One thing I do know is bringing up equipment and manpower levels will raise taxes to a point many people on fixed income will have problems with, the snowfall used as an example rarely happens and maintaining a large fleet of equipment does not make much sense. What are the wages compared to other towns our size. Rumour has it wages are fair so how about looking at improving benefits and ensuring a safe work place with better training.
Get to the table!
Comment by Rob on 6th March 2015
Putting groups to task seems to be at the core of this stalled negotiations, is the district using the “pay book” “let the other party sit for two weeks to soften them up”? My father who was a strong union person always told me “you never strike over money only over principle” this contract seems to be right in line with that. The union has demonstrated there wiliness to bargain by extending well past the expired date of the contract.
As for the monetary part of the contract there are understandable constraints. So why is the district showing little to no interest in better contract language that come with little to no cost? Is management not willing to follow set guide lines that good contract language provides? At the end management has the right to manage so better language would put a set process in place. This puts the checks and balances in place that all benefit from!
So pick up the phone or put out that email and get back to the basics, it’s not about brinkmanship it’s about a common goal.