On strike: NDCU workers walk out

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
February 18th, 2010

As of 8:00 A.M. Tuesday morning, staff at the Nelson District Credit Union went on strike. Citing a large gap between labour and management, last minute efforts that went late into the night and early Tuesday morning by both sides proved unfruitful and the union walked out several hours later.

The employees, members of the United Steelworkers Local 1-405, have been operating under a collective bargaining agreement which expired May 31st 2008. In December of 2009, the union held a strike vote which resulted in 98% of members favouring strike action. Following this vote, the union applied for mediation. The two sides then went back to the table on January 7th and bargained for seven days. Ultimately, the Nelson District Credit Union presented an offer to the employees which was voted down by 96% of the employees. Working late into the night on Monday, the Credit Union came back with a revised offer which the employees felt did not meet their needs..

This strike represents the first walkout of NCDU staff in the 32 years that employees have been represented by the United Steelworkers local 1-405.

Doug Singer, financial secretary for local 1-405 described the employees’ position.

“Some of the issues are, for example, full time versus part time. We don’t want to lose full time jobs to part time. There were some issues in the last few years on that front. Our issues also include vacation pay when returning from illness/injury, benefit protection while you are off on illness/injury and tightening up of the language on benefit protection so the benefit pan doesn’t change in the next term. There is a travel pay language issue and outstanding grievance that needs to get resolved, there are seniority retention language issues, benefits while in a temporary position issues, and language on mergers and acquisitions that needs fixing up. The language we’re looking for is that if the employer merges or is bought out by another credit union, that they will give notice or in lieu of notice severance pay to anyone who loses their job as a result of the merger or acquisition. It’s not something that will cost them. Family responsibility leave needs amendments to the language. There are also some monetary issues to be addressed to bring us up more in line with other credit unions in the West Kootenay.”

The final offer from management offered wage increases of 17.25% over a five year period. This included retroactive increases totalling 6.75% since the last contract expired on May 31, 2008. The Credit Union offered 3.5% for each of the next three years beginning June 1, 2010 in addition to a onetime payment of $1,000 to each employee covered by the collective agreement in recognition of a five year agreement.

The employees’ union balked at that offer citing that “it clearly showed that they were not listening to us,” noted Doug Singer who added, “My estimation is that what they are doing is trying to make us look greedy and spinning it saying, ‘look, we offered all this money and they didn’t take it’. We didn’t even talk about money in their last offer: we just said that we are too far apart on the issues. We spent very little time on the monetary side. We’ve been focussed on fixing the language that needs to be addressed so we don’t run into the same problems going forward.”

Doug Stoddart, CEO of the Nelson District Credit Union, responded to claims of losing full time jobs and benefits.

“We are a very responsive employer to the community. Certainly, there are some people that want to work part time and some want to work full time. In Nelson we have a six day operation, so certainly part time work is a part of our credit union and it has been for a lot of years. I’m not sure on that issue what they mean. We’ve offered a five year contract with no rollback on benefits. They have quite a lucrative benefit package and always have, so I struggle to understand that one.

“I do know that among the other issues is one around the language in our collective agreement around grievances. Grievances are when any employee who feels wrongly done by files a complaint, essentially. There was one filed approximately three years ago. The grievance process goes Steps One through Three. Step Three involves myself and the union talking about it. We have, in this particular case, a genuine disagreement on the grievance. In our existing collective agreement, what is called Step Four is arbitration. Both parties put their case to the labour board who appoints an arbitrator. The arbitrator looks at both sides and comes up with a decision and we live and die with what the arbitrator says. The union filed for arbitration some 15 months ago and they have refused to go any further on the process. We at the Credit Union are ready and willing to go forward and live by the ruling of the arbitration but the union will not do that. It is part of the collective agreement and they don’t want to follow it.

“The wages in our last offer are higher than the recent settlement at Heritage Credit Union in December 2009.If you look at 42,00 health care workers just signing a new health care contract at 0% increase, 17.25% is a pretty healthy increase. On top of that, there is a $1,000 signing bonus that was offered to them and they turned it down. I understand the grievance one, but when they talk about benefits you’re not going to find a benefit package better than what we offer anywhere in the province.”

The increase in monetary offerings from the Credit Union in their final offer did not impress the union. According to Singer, their chief concerns were not about the money.

“They had increased the monetary part of the package but in all honesty we were focussed not on the money but on language that we need to get in this round of the bargaining to address some grievances that came up with the employed in the last four years. We don’t want to go into another three or four year agreement without clear language to deal with those issues.”

Moving forward from the current stalemate ,the union says their position is getting back to the bargaining table with a mediator involved in the process.

“We want to see if there is a way to get some talks going even with the strike continuing. We can only hope that something like that will take place in the next little bit,” said Singer. “We’re prepared to negotiate, but we have to know that the employer is willing to address the concerns that we have made them aware of.”

On the other side of the fence, the Credit Union seems unsure at this point as to just what the employees’ demands are.

“At this point in time, our focus is on serving the members to the best of our ability and we will continue to focus on that. I think the union has to get together and really figure out what they want because at this point in time there issues are not clear to us at all from the point of view of what they are saying,” added Stoddart. “We gave them an offer late Monday, early Tuesday morning and they rejected the offer and they took the employees out on strike. We have nothing further to offer them. We have given them an extremely good offer and we expect them to accept it. If they accept it then they will be very happy to be back to work.”

As for the eight employees in Rossland, they are currently taking shifts picketing in front of the Columbia Ave and trying to make the best of it.

“We’re trying to keep warm. We’ve had so much community support, though, with people coming by and buying us coffees and bringing us food,” noted employee Niva Harrison. “We work hard and love our members and we don’t want to be out here. We have fun working together. We’re stuck out here but we’re trying to keep up a good attitude.”

Strike pay for the picketing employees adds up to $205 per week; however, there is a three week waiting period before any strike pay begins.

During the labour disruption, management will be attempting to maintain normal operations as much as possible. In Nelson, managers will be operating the branch from 10:00-11:30am and 2:00-3:30pm. In Rossland, with only one manager, the branch is unable to remain open for regular business. The Credit Union is unable to have the vault open and cash on hand with just one manager at the location or they would be in violation of their risk management guidelines. Customers needing service in Rossland are asked to call the branch and set up an appointment on a case-by-case basis.

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