Union president outlines challenges facing members

Concessions dismissed, pattern bargaining trumpeted

Delegates to the annual convention of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP), held in Montreal in late October, heard a no-holds-barred address from union president Dave Coles.

In his keynote address to the 1,500 attendees, Coles called his members the “Olympic champions of the labour movement” for their ability to withstand the severe punches the economy has thrown at many of the union’s members. He noted the challenges faced by workers and union organizers in the face of the serious downturn in the forest industry “where about 20 per cent of the Canadian pulp and paper capacity has closed” in the past two years and added, “Look around this room and imagine 25 more of these round tables.”

Calling on the government to intervene in this sector, Coles argued as well for the introduction of stiffer regulations in the energy and communications sectors, the other main areas his union represents.

As far as union bargaining strategy is concerned, Cole threw down the gauntlet and continued to oppose concession bargaining, calling it “the most important decision that this union has made in the last two years.” He drew attention to the current CEP strike at Petro-Canada’s Montreal Refinery where, for almost a year, Local 175 has resisted management’s desire to break the pattern settlement established with Petro Canada in Edmonton.

In the telecommunications sector, Coles says the CEP will pursue national co-ordination of bargaining when negotiating with such industry giants as SaskTel and the Teachers Pension Plan of Ontario, which recently purchased Bell. Another sector where the CEP is involved is media; Coles promised to campaign against foreign ownership and media concentration and to defend providing local news.

Noting his union’s financial stability, Coles said the CEP is debt-free, having paid off over $3 million owed by its general fund and organizing fund, and now has $30 million in its defence fund. Another area of good news for Coles was the 2007 merger of the Canadian Telecommunications Employees Assn. with the CEP. About 10,000 former members of the CTEA are now represented by the CEP.

Looking to the future, Coles said the union will pursue bargaining opportunities in the construction sector and organize on an industrial model. He was pleased that an alliance with the Quebec Federation of Labour will “allow construction workers from Quebec to work anywhere in Canada.” Quoting union organizer Joe Hill who faced similar challenges almost a century ago, Coles concluded by urging delegates “Don’t mourn – organize.”

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