The United Steelworkers issued 72-hour strike notice to Kootenay Savings Credit Union on Monday evening in Trail. This will put the union in a legal strike position on Friday, October 21. Shortly after, Kootenay Savings issued a lock out notice to the union.
Kootenay Savings President and CEO Brent Tremblay told the Bulletin that the lock out notice was in response to the strike notice.
“It was issued in response to the strike notice as a cautionary measure to ensure we are able to deliver services to our members,” he said.
“If we do have a work stoppage, we will be publishing more details as to what services will look like. There will be services available but they will be scaled down.”
Jeff Bromley from the Steelworkers said that he heard about the lock out notice on Tuesday morning as he arrived in Trail for meetings.
“They’ve served notice and I guess employees will find out if they are locked out when they go to work Friday morning,” he said. “We would hope that, similar to the situation with the City of Kimberley, when the lock out notice was issued, we were able to go back to the table immediately. Both parties in that case worked hard over the weekend and we got a deal. But we haven’t had any offers to return to the table yet.”
However, in a press release later on Tuesday, Tremblay said that there were four days of mediated talks scheduled for this week.
“We are very disappointed that the Union asked the mediator to book out after only a half day of talks,” he said.
Bromley said that the USW had been looking at various types of job action before the lock out notice; from work to rule to rotating strikes to full pickets at every branch.
“That will now change with the lockout notice, he said.
Should a strike/lockout occur it would effect branches in Trail, Castlegar, Salmo, South Slocan, Kaslo, Fruitvale and Kimberley. There are 111 union employees in those branches, Bromley said.
“It includes tellers, customer service, loan officers and clerks; everyone but managers.”
In Kimberley, that would mean all workers would be locked out/on strike except for the manager and assistant manager.
There are two main issues that have not been resolved through a year’s worth of negotiation and time with a provincial mediator — wages and pension language.
“The employer continued to refuse to remove their concession that eliminates the pension protection language that was bargained into the agreement almost 30 years ago,” said Dean Lott, lead negotiator for the union, in the press release.
“The employer continues not come to the table with a fair wage increase and insisting on the pension concession. Our membership, with a strike mandate of 96.3%, is not going to waver on this issue. The pension protection language is the most important issue on the table and it has to continue to be in the collective agreement.”
“The employer has not shown us any model where there is any kind of worst-case scenario for the removal of the language. We will not bargain ‘what ifs’. The Union remains committed to returning the table to bargain a fair collective agreement at any time.”
However, Tremblay said that the current pension language creates the risk of a potentially untenable financial burden to the credit union.
Tremblay says that the current pension plan is offered through a multi-employer B.C. Credit Union Plan.
“That plan is controlled by a Board of Trustees who make modifications to the plan from time to time to ensure it can continue to meet its obligations to plan members.
“While a defined benefit pension plan is costly to maintain, we are fully prepared to continue our participation. The problem is that our current pension language holds us to unlimited financial liability for any changes that the Trustees may make to the Plan. This is a highly unusual requirement, and no other credit union in the B.C. plan is required to do so, including other credit unions in the plan who have employees represented by the Steelworkers.”
As for wages, Tremblay said that Kootenays Savings highly values all their employees.
“We provide salaries and benefits that are very competitive when compared to other financial institutions, and some of the highest bargaining unit wages when compared to credit unions across the province.”
The Steelworkers held meetings at all branches in September and members renewed the strike mandate they had given earlier this year, in fact increasing it by two per cent. 93.3 per cent of employees voted in favour of a strike.
Bromley said early Tuesday that there had been no offer to return to the table from Kootenay Savings.
Tremblay said that,“we are fully committed to successfully concluding a new collective agreement, and remain ready and willing to meet with the Union at any time.”