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Letter regarding CEP

You may already be aware that CEP is attempting to raid CULE/Ontario members.  In response to this raid, the CULE Executive struck a sub-committee to handle our fight-back campaign.

One of the fight-back activities chosen by your sub-committee was to prepare the following letter which went out to all CULE/Ontario members a few weeks ago.  We also wanted this letter to be posted on our website so that all CULE members were aware of this raid.  If you require more information or clarification please contact your CULE Director.

Dear CULE member:

As you may be aware the Canadian Energy and Paper Workers (CEP) with the backing of some of your colleagues as well as members of the Alliance Employees Union (AEU) have taken aim at parts of the Canadian Union of Labour Employees (CULE) with a view to displacing CULE as the bargaining agent.

CLC Affiliation, a long held CULE objective

At first glance the rationale for making such a move has great appeal. CEP is an affiliate of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and joining CEP would allow current CULE members’ access to the House of Labour. There is no doubt that in of itself, this would achieve a long standing goal of many staff at the Alliance particularly those who work in the field. After all, many of us work closely with our local District Labour Council in the struggle for labour justice for all working people both in Canada and abroad. Why can our contribution not be fully recognized? Why should we do the work but have no say in the decisions made in the larger Union Community? Most of us who have worked in equity groups can appreciate the sense of loss which literally consumes those who are denied their rightful recognition as an equal among equals. We understand all too well the long term destructive effects of denying a community’s status while ignoring their significant contributions to the greater good.

Affiliation with the CLC has been one of CULE’s objectives right from the start. On at least three occasions we have written to various Presidents of the CLC starting with Dennis McDermott in 1978 and more recently, Ken Georgetti requesting affiliation. When Nycole Turmel was President of the PSAC, we even asked her to support our efforts to affiliate. To date, we have not been successful but we remain undeterred. Following our Convention in January this year, CULE members voted to seek affiliation to the Toronto District Labour Council as well as any other District Labour Council. As a result, CULE’s President has asked all CULE members to approach their respective DLCs, request affiliation and inform us of the applicable dues to be remitted on behalf of our members in those communities. Once we affiliate to a number of DLCs the CULE Executive will once again make a formal request to the CLC to take our proper seat in the House of Labour. It remains to be seen if this more indirect approach will bear fruit, but the CULE Executive remains seized of the matter!

However, the issue of affiliation in itself, whether by CULE or through the aegis of CEP needs to be balanced against the true interests of our membership. And, those are normally addressed through our collective bargaining relationship with our Employer. Is affiliation going to get us a better collective agreement with PSAC? Of course, some might hope that it will. However, in the absence of any clear vision of what lies in the future we are obliged to look at the past for answers.

A Bit of History

In 1997 the Quebec members of CULE who worked in the Quebec, Montreal and Hull Regional Offices decided to apply to the Quebec Labour Relations Board to break away from CULE and join the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). They were successful in being recertified provincially. By virtue of their move to SEIU, also known by its French abbreviation as UES, previous CULE members in those three Regional Offices gained affiliation to the CLC and were permitted to affiliate with the Quebec Federation of Labour (QFL or more commonly referred to as the FTQ). Since that time what, if any, gains have they made with their Employer, the Public Service Alliance of Canada? The record shows that their ‘progress’ after three rounds of bargaining covering twelve years has been limited to a clause dealing with the language of the work. That has now been clearly identified as French which brings them into harmony with larger workplaces as defined by Bill 101, Quebec’s Language Law. Other than that, their collective agreements are identical to that of CULE. What’s more, the Employer in each and every round since the ‘separation’ settled with CULE first and then offered SEIU/UES the exact same package on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis.

This undoubtedly must have caused the brothers and sisters in Quebec much angst and frustration. Whereas they had hoped to create a collective agreement in their own image, so to speak, they were stuck with the one negotiated by CULE. They could send more members to the negotiating table but at the end of the day they really couldn’t negotiate. And, while they undoubtedly had their own demands which reflected their own concerns, they no longer had any way to effectively bring these forward where it counted, at the CULE-PSAC Bargaining Table.

This, among other issues, led to yet another breakaway, this time from SEIU/UES, itself. After the second round of bargaining with SEIU as the bargaining agent staff in the Hull Regional Office as well as the Grievance and Adjudication Officer and their Administrative Officer, who worked in Montreal but did not report to the Regional Coordinator fled SEIU and joined the Alliance Employees Union (AEU). This effectively removed them from affiliation with the CLC and the FTQ but they hoped to be able to improve their chances at the bargaining table. Unfortunately, they ended up in exactly the same circumstances as SEIU/UES and were given the CULE settlement once again on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis.

Through all this, affiliation or non-affiliation with the CLC or the Provincial Federations of Labour was really immaterial to the outcome at the negotiating table! What counts in the end is a membership committed to the issues on the table and ready to support its negotiation team to achieve a fair settlement!

Today, those same regional staff who left CULE to join a CLC affiliated union, only to leave them and join AEU are now on the move once more and have signed with CEP. Once again, no doubt, they are hopeful that they can put twelve years of frustration behind them. And they are so sure that they have struck it rich that they want to share their good fortune with the rest of us. Join CEP and all your worries will be over….! If it were only so easy! Unfortunately, on the eve of our next round of bargaining black clouds are gathering.

What lies ahead

The Employer has already made it abundantly clear that they expect significant roll-backs on benefits, explaining at the recent National Officers Conference that the Alliance is bound by Convention decision to re-jig the ratio of all benefits to 60/40. As if to convince themselves, they are fond of alluding to ‘an historical rebalancing’. While pleading that benefit costs are running out of control they are hard pressed to explain why, in the face of such a crisis, they have yet to reconvene the very joint committees as per MOU #16 which were set up years ago to monitor these costs and discuss ways to keep them under control….!

A cursory scan of the outside environment would indicate that our Employer, itself, will be facing considerable uncertainty in the near future. With a Conservative Government at war with its public service, not particularly enamoured with unions especially those who have openly challenged its human rights record, and determined to exploit the weaknesses among a divided opposition there is every reason to expect rough times for the PSAC and its members. Whether we like it or not this will inevitably spill over to its staff and we can expect a variety of measures designed to reduce our job security, reduce or roll back our benefits, and seriously curtail or eliminate our rights under our collective agreement.

All of which promises to present considerable challenges as we move forward no matter which union we belong to.

Is this really the best time to be changing horses?

Again, there are some among us who would have us believe that CULE is not a real union even that we are a puppet of the Employer. They ignore the real gains that we have achieved in favour of ideological notions of belonging and the like.

What they fail to acknowledge is that there is a downside to their idea of one big union under the CEP banner. In fact there is great potential for some of our members to be seriously hurt in this intellectual ‘game’.

The first to lose would be those CULE members who wish to take early retirement. In 2004 CULE set up a retirement benefit fund to provide CULE members who retire from age 55 to 65 with medical, dental and healthcare benefits similar to those they enjoyed while employed with PSAC. As outlined in MOU #21 the fund has two components, individual accounts and a pooled account. The pooled account is designed to supplement the individual accounts. Presently, the Employer has agreed to pay each retiree’s individual account $1800 a year. This can be used to pay premiums or actual medical, dental or vision care costs. If these are exhausted and a given retiree requires additional care the pooled monies can be used to provide same.

Should CULE be displaced as the bargaining agent it is possible that the Employer would continue to contribute the $1,800.00 to the individual accounts, though under Ontario Labour Relations Act it could opt out of this and virtually any other part of the current Collective agreement and require the new bargaining agent to start all over. However, the pooled monies accumulated to date belong to CULE and neither the new bargaining agent nor the new bargaining agent’s members would have access to these funds. This means that in the short-term at least retirees would have a greatly reduced medical, dental and vision care benefit.

The second to lose would be those who would like to transfer from one Regional Office to another. Currently Article 15.05 of the CULE Collective agreement gives CULE members the “right to apply for a transfer into vacant or newly created positions “within the bargaining unit”. Currently, a CULE member in the Ottawa can transfer to a position in B.C., or the Atlantic or the North. However, were CULE to be displaced as the bargaining agent representing employees in the Ontario those members of that bargaining unit would only be entitled to transfer to a Regional Office in Ontario. Recent history clearly indicates that this is not just a hypothetical scenario. In the summer/fall 2009 two fully qualified Regional Representatives, one in Ottawa (a CULE member) and one in Gatineau (an AEU member) applied to transfer to fill vacancies in the Montreal RO. Both requests were turned down on the basis that they were not in the same bargaining unit as the staff in the Montreal RO (SEIU/UES). Both were required to enter a competitive process where they were found to be less qualified than term employees who had previously occupied the positions. When questioned, the Employer pointed to the language in Article 15.05 to justify its decision.

The third to lose would likely be the CULE II members. It has taken many years of constant vigilance on the part of many CULE Executives to mend the rifts between CULE I and II.

For too many years CULE II members felt that CULE was run by the Reps for the Reps. This feeling was reinforced in the early 90’s when the Employer decided to lock out the Admin Staff in the Regional Offices. Faced with a picket line ‘manned’ by their own union sisters, many so-called unionists in Rep’s clothing proved to be less than supportive. The hard feelings lingered well beyond the resolution of the dispute and threatened the very existence of CULE. To address the concerns of CULE II members and to ensure that we would not have such a division within our ranks again CULE made a number of moves. First, instead of two separate bargaining teams we decided and convinced the Employer to agree that we would have one bargaining table with equal representation from each of CULE I and II. Then, we examined our governance model, the makeup of the CULE Executive, and made some changes which would ensure that CULE II would have a say proportional to their numbers in CULE. Today, if the number of CULE II on the Executive is low, we can add additional Members at Large to restore the ratio of CULE I to II.

CULE has worked hard to address CULE II concerns. For example, when the Alliance’s internal pay equity study was conducted in the late 1990’s CULE pushed to ensure that our CULE II members received full credit for their interaction with PSAC members. In fact, especially in the smaller offices, the Admin. Staff often replaced the Regional Reps as the first point of contact and advice when the Rep was out of the office negotiating or otherwise servicing their regions. The Employer took the position that CULE II positions in the ROs were no different than similar positions in Headquarters. They argued as much before the Ontario Pay Equity Commission. At the end of the day, the Commission decided in our favour and to this day CULE II members are classified one level higher than similar positions in Headquarters. An Administrative Assistant is at Band 8 whereas the Administrative Assistant to the Branch Director is a Band 7. CULE II members do not want to lose this hard-won achievement.

As recently as three years ago during the last round of bargaining when the Band 13 issue was of primary importance to CULE I and the Employer did its best to divide us, our team held out until the Employer properly addressed some important CULE II issues such as the Career Enhancement Program where they agreed to dedicate funds equivalent to one person year in each of 2008 and 2009.

The fourth to lose would be our Brothers and Sisters who work for NEU. They approached us and we agreed to be their bargaining agent a number of years ago. They do much of their own representation and we provide them with a negotiator and, on occasion, with representation at arbitration. To date this seems to have worked out well for both parties. However, if a significant portion of CULE in the south were to move to another union such as CEP they might rightfully feel abandoned.

They joined us when they could have joined any union including AEU, which represents many more Component staff than ourselves, because they thought we were a much closer fit. They may not be so keen on joining CEP which basically has no presence in the North at this time.

Finally, we all will lose.

Fractured and divided is not the best way to have success at the bargaining table. Nor does it bode well for dealing with the day to day issues which have always arisen in our workplaces. We are a very small band of folk stretched out over this vast land and isolated from each other in many ways other than by geography. Despite this, we have been very successful in addressing our members concerns, promoting solidarity and using the resulting power to achieve what many thought was impossible.

Some of those achievements include:

  1. Job security (Article 15A was achieved as part of our fightback campaign when the Employer attempted to close the Thunder Bay RO)

  2. Retiree Benefit plan unique to CULE members

  3. Paid Christmas/New Years shut down

  4. Funding for Career Enhancement Leave for CULE II

  5. The pension rule of 80

  6. Full indexation of pensions (not the case before 1981)

  7. Out days and Stress days for CULE I and II

  8. Religious leave days

  9. Seniority provisions by unit

  10. A strong grievance and arbitration procedure

  11. Leave with Income Averaging

  12. Self Funded Leave (first achieved by CULE)

  13. Compassionate transfer of special leave credits

  14. National Aboriginal Day and International Women’s week leave

  15. Recreation allowance

  16. Car allowance for CULE I

  17. Establishment of numerous joint committees including regional joint equity committees

We have already elected our negotiation team for the upcoming round. They will be getting together in the next few weeks to prepare our package based on the input from members such as yourself. Notice to bargain has been served on the Employer and we are in the process of setting up dates to exchange proposals and begin bargaining as soon as possible. Should there be an attempt to displace CULE as the bargaining agent there will likely be significant delays to what can be a lenghty process in any case.

To guard against this possibility the CULE Exective is asking you to fill out and sign a new CULE Membership Card (copy attached) and return same to Marion Agadzi as soon as possible. For those of you who have already signed a CULE Membership Card, thank-you for your ongoing support. We intend to file with the Ontario Labour Board as soon as possible. This should thwart any attempt by CEP to break up a bargaining relationship which has not only been in place since 1977 but, as indicated above, has produced some real gains for CULE members over that time.

Should you have signed a CEP card, all is not lost. Simply sign our card and enclose a separate statement to the effect that you “revoke your previous decision to sign with CEP and wish to retain CULE as your exclusive bargaining agent”.

If you would like additional information or clarification please don’t hesitate to contact either Doug Kosakowski or Bob Allen.

In solidarity,

Your CULE Executive.

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The results of the vote to have a vote are in: 94 eligible to vote (CULE I – 57/CULE II – 37) 59 Ballots cast 23 – No 36 – Yes Watch for more information to come.

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