USW Local 9705 History, Our Union
Part 3: My Thoughts on Your Collective Agreement
Jim Saare, November 2012
I have been asked to write about my thoughts regarding the key articles in your collective agreement. That’s hard to answer because, during my 25 years, even the management rights clause has been argued to our advantage by the union.
Some of our contract language fell into place rather seamlessly during our first set of negotiations in 1974. The five production and maintenance unions at that time had settled their contract 3 months into a four month strike. They had also assured us of their continued support throughout the month of October as we bargained our first contract. As well as inheriting some of the benefits that local 480 had bargained, such as a Cost Of Living Allowance (COLA) and a Dental Plan, unbeknownst to us “newbies”, we had far more bargaining clout than we ever had – or likely will ever have again. Some of our language, which may have seemed innocuous at the time, became very important to us during crew reductions and poor economic times.
I’ve been gone now for 10 years and, in looking through your contract not much has changed in the language. As boring as it may seem, all of the articles in your agreement has benefited – or will benefit – you or a co-worker.
For example, in 1974 we bargained “Red Circle Protection” – article 19 in your collective agreement. Article 19 provides a member who is placed in a lower rated job, through no fault of their own, their old rate. They then receive 80% of all salary increases applicable to their new job. We had also included language for our 37 ½ hour work week – now article 10.
The company saw how valuable these items were and in 1987, when local 480 decided to bargain without us, Cominco thought that we, as the much smaller union, were vulnerable. They demanded concessions just as we were coming out of a recession. They demanded we go to a 40 hr. work week with no compensation for the additional 2 ½ hrs.
They also expected us to eliminate our “red Circle Rate Protection” for the 36 month sunset clause (that is in the local 480 agreement) to take the rate down to the lower rated job. Over 30% of our members were rate protected under this article at that time, so they could see exactly how much they stood to lose. This immediately became a “membership driven” strike.
At the end of our 4 month strike the company conceded their demand for article 19 and compensated us for going to a 40 hr. work week. As a result, the collective agreement you have today contains: article 10.07 and 10.08 – an additional 40 hrs. paid leave, the Group RRSP plan, and an additional 2% included in your present monthly salaries and you still have the red Circle Rate Protection. Our membership felt a great deal of pride in that victory. It not only strengthened our Union, it commanded respect from our employer.
I believed, when we bargained the Group RRSP, that we got the best of both worlds: A reliable Defined Benefit Plan and a Group Investment Plan, where we could freely access our own financial advisor. It would be icing on the cake if we got a decent return from our RRSP’s to augment our more reliable “Defined Benefit Plan”, a plan that is protected under the “Pension Benefits Standards Act”. And if our investments fail to produce, as most have in the past few years, we still have our monthly pension to survive off of.
In 1979, we bargained the basics of your current Pension Plan. In 1990 we improved on that Plan. Since the mid-eighties, the Company has tried to shift us to a “Defined Contribution Plan”. Be aware of that pitfall. There are many management staff today that either chose to go – or were forced to go – to managements’ Defined Contribution Plan. Many are not doing well today.
So, regarding my thoughts about more “key articles” in your agreement? If I had a couple of areas of most concern, it would have to be Seniority – Articles 16 and 17. I believe Seniority is the cornerstone of any collective agreement. But in saying that, every part of your collective agreement was fought for and brought into being by those who came before you.
Every clause was bargained and written in that agreement for a reason. It has served the union well over the years. It is your Collective Agreement. – Your contract with your employer. If you don’t use it you deserve to lose it. If you don’t maintain it, you will lose it.