Part 1: Early Rumblings and the Reasons to Fight

USW Local 9705 History, Our Union 

The early years of our local, some of its personalities and the reasons for 9705 being formed in the first place, where outlined by Jim Saare during an interview in December 2011. Jim, now retired, was formerly a technician in the Cominco Assay Lab and our President from 1975 – 2000.

 Part 1: Early Rumblings and the Reasons to Fight

By: Ron McKenzie and Jim Saare, Trail BC – September 2012

USW local 9705 started, “on the hill” at what was at the time, “Cominco” under the shadow of the smokestacks and its older sibling USW local 480. The members, who now make up the Teck contingent of local 9705, then fell under the category of, “Staff” on the hill. They had on average, a decent wage and slightly better benefits, (paid sick leave and a greater pension benefit) than the unionized production and maintenance employees at the time.

However, in the late 1960’s it was becoming increasingly evident, that divides existed in the workplace. Jim recounted the following story of how salary increases were handled:

“An employee would be called into the Manager’s office, usually in October, for his/her annual performance review. Whereby, the manager would cup his hand over a sheet of paper and (supposedly) find the corresponding monthly increase. He would then warn the employee his/her increase was above the average and he/she should refrain from sharing this information with others. In most areas this information was shared at their following coffee break. It wasn’t much of a secret and, if any, there usually wasn’t much of a difference.  The secretive atmosphere was deliberately set to make everyone feel that they had somehow gotten more they deserved and more than their coworkers.”

In another example of how the workplace was flawed, Jim told of how promotions and the awarding of jobs were often questionable. He explained that more often than not, “friends of management”, and/or “favoritism”, was often the primary reason for a promotion. The factors of, “ability, qualifications and experience…”, as noted in Article 16.01 of our collective agreement, were non-existent.

At the time, the majority of our clerical employees and many of the technical workers were women and for them especially, discrimination reigned supreme. Jim recounted one case in particular:

“A young woman, who worked across the workbench from me, received a salary increase in the spring. This was unusual, as we had all received ours in the previous fall. What had happened was that the BC Government had increased the minimum wage.  With her newly increased salary she was only now earning the provincial minimum wage! The real irony of all this, is that I had trained her to do my previous job, which she was fulfilling, at a few hundred dollars less than what the Company had been paying me! Clearly, Cominco was guilty of discrimination and the anger among our female employees was evident.”

The understandable perception was that many people were being stepped over, left in poor paying or less rewarding positions and had their contributions to the company unfairly, undervalued by the primarily older, male, management group!  Individually, with little or no voice, complaints were largely ignored by the company or not made at all due to fear of reprisal.

These and many more examples, united our office and technical employees in a common cause; to make a more equal and fairer workplace for everyone. Groups began to talk together in lunch rooms and at coffee breaks, and while socializing together after work.  They began to come up with ideas about how they could work together to fix the situation. This coming together of people and open communication between our members is what made our union possible.  This group effort and cooperation, is what got us rolling and is what we need to keep us strong and sustain our union into the future. These were the “Early Rumblings” that would eventually build to become our union movement.