USW Local 9705 History, Our Union
Part 2: Finding Our Path
By: Ron McKenzie and Jim Saare, Trail BC
Prior to 1973, there were three early attempts to organize the workers who would eventually become USW local 9705.
The first two of these aimed to create a new, independent, “Staff Union of Cominco” or some sort of other, “Professional Association” to represent the mainly clerical and technical workers on the hill. However, both failed to get off the ground. Without the support of a larger, more established group, it proved too difficult to lay the groundwork or to draw together all of the different people and jobs.
The third attempt sought a way to work the clerical and technical employees into the already formed USW local 480. While more practical, this also never got off the ground, due in part to a lack of interest from the USW Staff Rep and local 480 executive at the time. As well, a two week strike in 1972 by local 480, hampered any movement and cooled people’s desire to unionize.
However, in 1973 things really started to take off. Jim explained that in the Cominco Assay Office, where he worked at the time, there had always been a tightly knit group of strong, motivated people. There, workers like Reg Conway, Don Taylor, Jim and many others, were fed up with the unfair promotions and postings, discrimination against women and young workers, bullying tactics by management and too many issues that were not being resolved fairly! The final straw, was an obscure version of the “Hay Evaluation System of merit” for pay increases, which was clearly being used manipulate promotions unfairly and bordered upon being discriminatory!
Early in the year, a group of activists from different sectors throughout Cominco met with representatives of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). The CLC took an immediate interest in the situation. They recognized the need for a larger body to unite these small groups of “White Collar” workers, scattered throughout different workplaces at Cominco and elsewhere in the country. This was exactly the type of situation for which they had formed an organizing union within the CLC: The Association of Commercial and Technical Employees (ACTE).
In May of 1973, a few key figures emerged to support the workers in Trail. At this time, Bill Smally and Art Kuby from the CLC as well as, Less Lilly the president of ACTE local 1706 in Kimberly; contacted the interested workers at Cominco and set up an, “informational meeting” at the Cominco gym.
It was clear before the meeting that something must be done to improve conditions for everyone, but there was still disagreement as to how that action should proceed. Some, such as those workers in assay and clerical wanted to form a labor union like 480, other groups such as in research, favored more of a professional technical association and some, were opposed to any association at all, feeling instead that each person was better off to stand on their own.
As the meeting progressed, excitement grew and it was proposed that organizing under the banner of ACTE would be the best route. Eventually, a vote was held and it was decided that an interim executive should be elected to follow through on this goal. Jim conceded that,
“In all likelihood, this meeting had always been intended as more than just an information session. The CLC, and a few key people from our workplaces, had laid the groundwork to establish and elect a body to organize our union”.
All of the positions for an interim executive were filled that night. Seth Catalano was elected president. Jim described Seth as,
“a feisty, no nonsense kind of a guy, he was, the right guy at the right time. Seth was very vocal and had a talent for motivating people to get things moving.”
Brian Pipes out of the Assay Office was elected Vice president and Al McKenzie from the Warfield Warehouse became the Recording Secretary. Mike Bourchier was elected, and served, as secretary treasurer from 1973 – 1988. Jim said as for himself,
“Reg Conway nominated me for a Director. I reluctantly accepted, intending to serve my one year term and leave it to someone smarter. Reg, who was our key guy in the Assay Office, took a posting to a management job a few years after we organized and was unfortunately no longer a part of the union.”
Through the simple act of bringing everyone together in one meeting, the CLC had managed in one night to solidify an organizing body and to set the direction to move in. Four months later, after many nights of “door knocking” and signing cards, the group applied to the BC Labour Relations Board for certification. On December 6th, 1973 the group of workers at Cominco was officially recognized as, “The Association of Clerical and Technical Employees, (ACTE) Local 1705”. This became the foundation for the union that we have today and with it in place, the real work of laying out contract terms and planning for the future could begin.