History

Starting Out

By: Ron McKenzie, Trail BC – August 2012

“Our Union wasn’t formed by actions of one person and our Union can’t be sustained by the actions of one person.  When we formed our Union in 1973 it was through the collective efforts of the Office and Technical employees.  Our Union was formed to protect our members from discrimination, unsafe work practices, and to improve wages and benefits.  Overall, I believe, our union has been very successful and we have all benefited as a result. However, times have changed substantially since then; the vast majority of our Union activists have retired or are about to retire.  As a Union we are going through a critical transition period, its’ time for the next generation to decide if they are going to step up and learn how to work in a Union environment, or remain silent and watch the hard work of our predecessors erode.”

Chuck Macklon, President USW Local 9705 – Personal communication, 2012

This project of writing an article about the history of local 9705, began with an idea already formed of how it would turn out and why it needed to be written. When I started, I was planning to write a short article that would draw parallels between the events and environments of the past and the present; to remind people of what happened and hopefully, to prevent a return to a worse kind of lifestyle for everyone. I felt it needed to be done because I saw a move in the wrong direction happening in our workplaces and society in general; backwards to the conditions of the early 20th century that eventually sent the world into the great depression. My idea was that, the environment spurs a union into being and if people saw that the same environment that I do developing again then we could stop it before it gets too far.

However, as the project progressed I have learned a strong union doesn’t grow just because of the conditions around it, but instead it grows because of the people who are in it. By simply making the situations known so that someone else will do something about it, isn’t going to get at the real problem. That problem is; that most of us are waiting for, “someone better” or, “someone else” to tell us what to do and to fix things for us, rather than turning up to fix it for ourselves. We need to turn up in order to mold our situations the way we want them.

One of the ideals that every good union promotes is that everyone is equal in importance and that everyone can equally help to shape their union and workplace.  Through the combinations of multiple minds and skill sets, there is no problem that can’t be overcome. However, to work in practice, this ideal requires people to step up and participate in whatever way they can. Some end up playing high profile roles and some go unnoticed, but all are equally important.

So, rather than focusing on the events or the environment in these articles, the focus should be on the people in our history and what they did to make our union great. The hope is that everyone reading this will realize that it doesn’t take “someone better” or “someone else” to make improvements. All that it takes is for us to work together, using our own strengths and to act when we find ourselves in the right place at the right time. We will be successful, we’ve done it before.

Watch the 9705 blog for a series of articles based on interviews with some of the people who experienced our history firsthand. The first of these are from an interview with Mr. Jim Saare, who was an instrumental part of the drive to organize our local and one of our first presidents.  Remember, it’s our union.  We can make it whatever we want it to be!

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.

Part 2: Finding Our Path

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.

Part 3: My Thoughts on Your Collective Agreement

posted on: November 7, 2012

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.

 

Part 4: History Worth Remembering

Posted May 31, 2014

History Worth Remembering

Amanda Gibb May 30, 2014

 

On January 29th, 1990 the United Steelworker (USW) members of Kootenay Savings Credit Union (KSCU), Local 9090, took a stand and to this day, it is a piece of history worth remembering.

It all started in July of 1988, when six branches: Trail, Castlegar, Waneta, Salmo, Kaslo and Fruitvale decided and were approved for certification to unionize. South Slocan branch followed suit in February 1991. Warfield Credit Union merged with KSCU, whom were already USW members of local 9090, in 1997.

There were four employees that were instrumental to signing our first contract in November 1990. They were: Faye Peters, Cheryl Gallamore, Lisa Shepherd and Brenda Bortolussi. Together, along with the Staff Reps from the USW, they built an agreement that provided clear distinction between which jobs were to be excluded from the bargaining unit. So I bring up this exclusion of bargaining unit jobs for one good reason: it will be the start of events to come regarding the Cheryl Gallamore Grievance that occurred on January 17th, 1990.

Leading up to the day which the grievance was issued, a lot of turmoil had surfaced between KSCU and the newly unionized employees. In November 1989, KSCU management applied to the BC Industrial Relations Council (IRC) with concern as to whether or not two jobs within KSCU should be included in, or excluded from the bargaining unit. The reason for concern in the eyes of the Board of Directors and management, was that these employees were privy to and had access to information regarding management salaries. They told the IRC that no other bargaining unit employee had access to this information when in fact ALL employees could access this information. So in turn, the IRC requested that the Union provide evidence that all other bargaining unit employees did in fact have access to management wages. The Union contacted Cheryl, along with the IRC investigator and asked her if she could access manager’s payroll information. As requested, Cheryl provided a payroll deposit from a senior manager’s account to the investigator. Basically, this proved our case that anyone could access this information if you worked within any bargaining unit job and therefore those two jobs would remain in the bargaining unit.

Now this information was not given to anyone else other than the IRC investigator and the Staff Rep. After the “verdict” was handed down about these two jobs being definitely considered bargaining unit jobs, somewhere between November 1989 and January 1990, the KSCU management staff had declared that an employee had seriously breached confidentiality. A letter was sent out from the CEO of KSCU on January 11th to all the employees of KSCU. They didn’t know who had done this breach so they brought in many employees, one at a time, to ask each: “did you provide this confidential information?” as well as “do you know who did?” No one knew anything. It was a stressful time for all employees and when word got back to Cheryl that this was happening, she did not hesitate to let the management staff know it was her. That is when this situation became very serious and would be the start of all the events to come.

January 15th, Cheryl and the Union Rep wrote a letter to all the USW members of KSCU. In it, Cheryl explained she had provided this information to the IRC officer for the purpose of the IRC investigation. It was the Union’s position that the information was not a breach of confidentiality to provide that information to the Union or the Industrial Relations Council, especially when it was the Employer who called in the IRC and then did not supply them with accurate information.

January 17th, the Fruitvale manager and friend of Cheryl was required to issue her a letter of discipline stating that she had divulged personal information about member’s accounts and therefore breached confidentiality. This discipline would be a 30 day unpaid suspension. That same day, the Union issued the Cheryl Gallamore grievance.

January 18th, USW issued a statement from Local 9090 office to the Shop Stewards defending Cheryl. In that statement, it read: “the information Cheryl supplied was required to respond to an application made by the Employer to the Industrial Relations Council. Cheryl was acting in her capacity as a Shop Steward and a member of USW and furthermore, she was acting on behalf of all of us as members of the USW. We believe that KSCU has not accepted the fact we wanted a Union in our workplace and the Union is here to stay.”

January 25th, an investigator with the Financial Institutions Commission, that is regulated by the Province of BC, acted on a reported violation of the Credit Union Act (Regulation 9), concerning confidentiality. What this meant was that the Employer had requested an investigation in order to decide if laying criminal charges against Cheryl was deserving. Now while KSCU said they had not laid such charges, the investigator from the Financial Institutions Commission had contacted Cheryl to inform her that indeed only the Credit Union or the bank account holder could initiate these charges. No one ever knew who the bank account holder was – only Cheryl, the Staff Rep and the IRC investigator. No one within the Union cared who made what money. All they cared about was proving that any employee could access this information. So, KSCU must have initiated this, contrary to what the Board of Director President stated in a February 1990 memo to all the Kootenay Savings Credit Union members.

January 29th, the Union membership made a decision. The Union decided to hold a “study session” or some would call it a “wildcat strike”, others would say the employees “walked out”. It was an information picket to protest the 30 day suspension issued to Cheryl. Four branches participated – Trail, Fruitvale, Castlegar and Waneta. The Union used this time to educate the KSCU membership about the attack on Cheryl. Petitions were signed asking management to re-instate her, KSCU members as well as USW members stood the line in unity and management was brought in to work the teller lines. Senior management staff were preparing legal action to force the workers back.

January 30th, the employees returned to work therefore not requiring legal action. As one can imagine, managers were not easy to deal with. A resident of Fruitvale wrote in the Trail Times stating, “It was nice to see management respond in a very positive and mature manner. Take, for instance, in the Fruitvale branch. The following day, all the teller chairs were taken away. When the tellers weren’t too busy waiting on members they used to be able to sit and rest their legs while doing their other duties. I imagine this earned them a lot of respect from the employees, especially the one who will be giving birth soon.”

February 16th, Cheryl requested in writing a 60 day leave of absence to the KSCU Manager of Human Resources and that this absence would be for Union business.

February 26th, Cheryl resigned from her position of Loans Officer at the Fruitvale branch as Human Resources of KSCU declined such a leave. Cheryl’s feelings on the matter were that it would be very difficult to work for a company that were proceeding with criminal charges against her. In turn, she worked at the USW Local 480 Union Hall and would do so for the next 20 years. To this day, Cheryl regrets not going back to work at KSCU as a way of thanking the employees for all their support during this stressful time. She was so fortunate to have a better opportunity waiting for her that led her to be the first point of contact at the Union Hall. She ended up serving the USW membership in a different capacity and interestingly enough, her daughter took over her position when it came time to retire. But this issue became something bigger that the Employer could never imagine and that was the undying support of the communities of which she lived and worked in. She was a LOVED employee to put it mildly. KSCU members (not to be confused with USW members) wanted justice. Other Unions joined in to support Cheryl and the United Steelworkers. Many articles were published in the newspapers from irate KSCU members. One of which stated the following:

“We have had numerous dealings with Gallamore on a customer or business basis and find Cheryl to be of the utmost calibre of professional and confidential loans officer found anywhere in the business. We find the use of Cheryl Gallamore as a “pawn” in your current struggle with the Union totally unacceptable.” These were words from Fruitvale members that published their thoughts in the Trail Times on February 7th, 1990.

Also stated by letter mailed directly to KSCU Management and Board of Directors by two 44 year residents of Beaver Valley on January 31st, 1990, “As long time members of KSCU, we are greatly disturbed regarding the action taken against Fruitvale employee, Cheryl Gallamore. We feel the action to be unjust since the information can be requested by any KSCU member at any Annual General Meeting and management is obligated to answer.”

March 8th, in response to the letter that the President of the Board of Directors issued to every KSCU member, Cheryl explained, through publishing in Letters to the Editor of the Trail Times that this information was never given to anyone other than the IRC and the Union Staff Rep and continued on to say that “for KSCU to state that we cannot provide evidence to support our case is similar to stating that only a prosecutor in a criminal case can present evidence. What kind of democracy is this?” And she also reminded all KSCU members that Kootenay Savings Credit Union is a MEMBER owned Credit Union and ALL management’s salaries should be made available to the membership.

So at the next Annual General Meeting for KSCU that was held in April of 1990, the members of the communities of which KSCU served, as well as other Unions within the region asked the following questions:

“How much does the Credit Union pay each of their Management people?

“How much money has KSCU paid out in legal fees to fight this Cheryl Gallamore grievance?”

These members wanted answers because:

1.) They had the right to ask

2.) KSCU shares its profits back to the communities it serves, so the members wanted to know this financial impact to their communities and

3.) They were supporting the injustice that companies inflict on newly unionized workers.

The angst continued when the Employer’s lawyer would only respond to the questions with, “we will take it under advisement” for every single question by the people on the floor. From what I hear, it was truly shameful. Respect was lost that day.

The next 6 -7 months would be used to develop the first collective agreement. It would also be about accepting change in the workplace. All Unionized employees would now have a platform for building a great workplace. The first contract was signed on November 16, 1990, three days after the Cheryl Gallamore grievance was resolved. USW and KSCU believed it was in the best interest of the parties to resolve this matter without proceeding to arbitration.

Maybe at the end of the day there was no clear “winner” or “loser” because this grievance never went to arbitration but how we got to this resolution may have been better than any clear black and white verdict. The Union got a lot stronger, a lot louder and a lot more united. It was a tough time and definitely a time worth remembering. Fighting for what was right doesn’t come easy – it didn’t then, it doesn’t now. These are days that we, as current activists and employees, should look back on and appreciate. It was very admirable how a Union sister held up in this particular fight. She was truly humbled by the support and dedication by her friends, co-workers, family, members and USW family. I am truly humbled by her honesty and courage and class and of course for standing up for what was right. Thank you Cheryl. 

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