What unions want

Over the last few years, an aging workforce has made pensions a top issue in negotiations. Recently, members of the United Steelworkers at Stelco’s Hilton Works in Hamilton ratified an agreement where virtually all the increases went to pensions and none to wages.

Pensions will increase 44 per cent over the course of the four-year agreement, while wages increase by about 0.5 per cent. By the end of the contract, half of Stelco’s 4,000 unionized employees will be in the position to take either regular or early retirement.

A cautionary note, though, about neglecting workers not about to enter their golden years: younger Teamsters at a William Neilson facility west of Toronto felt they had been sold out when their elders negotiated a multi-year contract long on pension benefits and short on wage increases. They succeeded in convincing the employer to re-open the agreement well short of the end of the term and won significantly higher wages.

Elsewhere on the labour relations scene, predictions made at the beginning of 2002 that the public sector would provide much of the labour relations heat this year are proving accurate.

Despite leading the private sector in wage increases (which the public sector has done now for eight of the last nine quarters, according to the Workplace Information Directorate of Human Resources Development Canada), the public sector has also seen several large strikes.

But there have also been a number of large private-sector disputes: Navistar, Videotron, Bombardier, Pacific News Group, Westfair Foods in Saskatchewan and Noranda’s Horne Foundry among them.

To the end of June, there were 14 strikes involving more than 500 employees this year. They resulted in 1.5 million lost days of work.

Collective agreements signed in the public sector in the last few months have resulted in some upward pressures. In health care for example, increases achieved by one union have spurred sister unions in other provinces to seek matching gains. Most notably this happened with nurses. In Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan nurses demanded the same increases won by nurses in B.C. and Alberta.

In the private sector, talks between the Canadian Auto Workers and the Big Three automakers will set the tone for negotiations in the near future.

And the potential for labour disruption exists in the telecommunications sector. Negotiations are taking place at both ends of the country in bargaining units where amalgamations and rationalizations are on the agenda.

The 16,700 members of the Telecommunications Workers Union employed at Telus (formed from BC Tel and Alberta Government Telephones) are rapidly approaching two years without a collective agreement. Telus has plans to slash its workforce by one-third. Meanwhile, Aliant (the creation of a merger of Island Tel, MTT, NB Tel, and NewTel) is trying to hammer out a deal with its 4,500 employees.

Notable agreements

A few other notable agreements in the last few months:

•Labatt Breweries in Toronto settled in January with a six-year deal and a total of $4.80 in wage increases for production workers. The London Labatt workers turned their offer down and went out on strike. They settled in June with a seven-year agreement and $4.30.

•The Quebec public service, which includes teachers and social service workers, accepted a one-year extension in collective agreements with the province with only a two per-cent increase, well below the current norm. And the increase will not be effective until next April.

•The strike at International Truck and Engine Corp of Chatham, Ont. (better know as Navistar) ended in July with few concessions but few gains for the workers. The two-year agreement has no increases beyond the cost of living adjustment formula and richer pensions. The future of the plant remains uncertain, though the company recently called back 200 of the roughly 800 CAW members who were on lay-off.

Gordon Sova is the editor of CHRR’s companion publication CLV Reports, a newsletter that reports on collective bargaining and other issues in labour relations. He can be reached at [email protected]

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