Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Canadian union wins modernization battle

article: Kitimat Sentinel
Published: October 29, 2008 6:00 AM

The Canadian Maintenance and Allied Workers Union (CMAW) has won a ruling from the BC Labour Relations Board against the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America (UBCJA).

The ruling will mean that Local 1081 members - those workers in the Northwest - will have a better shot at getting work on the Rio Tinto Alcan smelter modernization project.

Three years ago the CMAW split from the UBCJA, the US-based union.

Bechtel Canada, after receiving a $2.5 billion contract for the smelter modernization, entered into a “foundation agreement” with the British Columbia Regional Council of Carpenters (BCRCC), the Canadian arm of the UBCJA, which CMAW said would have excluded its members.

CMAW members wishing to work on the project would have had to rejoin the American union.

When concerns surfaced about finding enough labour without the CMAW, Bechtel’s Kitimat Modernization Employer Association drafted a memorandum of understanding to include CMAW members.

The UBCJA opposed the union’s inclusion and the matter went before the BC Labour Relations board.

“The UBCJA tried to put all the pressure they could on Bechtel down in the states so that CMAW ... would be excluded from the project,” said CMAW president Jan Noster.

But the labour board ruled in favour of CMAW’s inclusion.

In his decision, Michael Fleming, associate chairman on the labour board, said “the solution proposed by BCRCC has the effect of potentially restricting CMAW’s ability to represent its members employed by contractors with existing collective agreements with CMAW.”

The resolution has the BCRCC as signatory to the project labour agreement (PLA), signed between Bechtel and a coalition of building trades unions, including the BCRCC, and that the CMAW’s role in the modernization project will be limited to a right to “represent its members ... with respect to contractors with existing collective agreements with CMAW as of the date of the execution of the PLA.”

Noster’s goal now is to ensure Kitimat companies get the work.

“My concern now going forward is that first of all that the companies that are in Kitimat, pay taxes in Kitimat, will be here long after the job in Kitimat is over ... get a good chunk of the work,” he said.

He’s also concerned with the prospect of foreign workers coming in through a foreign temporary worker clause in the PLA.

“The UBCJA doesn’t have a member within a 1,000 kilometres of Kitimat,” said Noster. “They’re going to be on that project and they’re either going to import people from Vancouver or the United States.

“If the locals are laid off because the local contracts are excluded from the project or are unsuccessful in obtaining work for that project, and there’s a bunch of foreign temporary workers or people from outside the community building the project, that’s a huge issue.”

Noster also said this could be a chance to give young people the chance to enter into apprenticeships on the project, what he calls a once in a lifetime opportunity.

That would help develop more skilled workers, he maintained and pointed out a slow down in contracting in the 1980s had created a generational gap in skilled trades in the country.

Noster said the CMAW is committed to the PLA and just hopes work is made available to the local residents.

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