Thursday, 25 September 2008

A Year of Challenge

This past year has been a year of radical changes for the members of Local 592. Some very tough decisions had to be made and the membership decided to go down a new path to help ensure a future for our local and a secure future for this mill. Some people had to set aside some very basic union principles (including myself) in order to accept the changes needed for our survival, and yet other people have maintained those principles and unfortunately will do what ever it takes to make this agreement fail. I honestly admire and respect their loyalty to their principles but I just can’t understand why they would want this operation to fail and take the entire membership down with them. I too have principles and one of them is “to do what ever it takes for the benefit and welfare of the entire membership of this local”. I know when I say that, some of our laid off people are saying “what about us”? Those people are still living in a world of uncertainty with no clear vision of the future. Over the last few years we have tried to do everything possible for these people by providing some clarity on what their future at this mill may look like. This local negotiated an early retirement offer, an enhanced severance offer, and reluctantly accepted the 5 shift schedule in order to provide full time employment for some of our junior people. Unfortunately some of these people have, in the past, declined ordinary severance offers, job elimination severance offers and, most recently, enhanced severance offers and gambled on the possibility of steady employment. Unfortunately there were no guarantees of employment below the lay-off line. Every one in this local was well aware of the seniority needed to maintain full time employment after May 1st when we ratified the agreement last February. The facts are that these lay-offs would have happened at any rate regardless of the new agreement. Also the depth of these lay-offs would have been far deeper than January 1984. We would be trying to survive as a one machine operation and would probably be down by now. So perhaps one should think of all the people that could be adversely affected by adhering to one’s deep rooted principles.

Since May 1st we have had to adjust to new ways of training and how we relieve for manning shortages. Both are very contentious issues and are constantly being challenged by all concerned. The Wage Delegates meet every Wednesday with local management as well as Brian Johnson to discuss any new or outstanding issues resulting from the agreement. “Training” and “running lean” are usually on the agenda at these meetings and trying to find the ways and means to provide meaningful training and adequate relief for manning shortages in a cost effective manner is a challenge. After all, this whole exercise is about labour costs. We could choose to ignore the concerns of labour costs and just demand that we do things like we did in the past but I believe that the result would be no jobs to train for and no one left to relieve. We will continue to address concerns about training and relieving until we can come to a common sense resolve that meets everyone’s needs.

As every one is aware we are bound by this agreement for the next 5 years. We could put some effort into making this work or we can throw up roadblocks at every turn with the chance of losing everything. It’s your choice.

The remainder of the Catalyst locals are now in bargaining and I hope I speak for all in giving them all the support we can in order for them to achieve the industry pattern agreement. We are attending these negotiations as observers only and are bound by the protocol agreement of an information blackout. Details of these negotiations will not be made known to the general memberships until after a tentative agreement is reached. The pattern agreement will be implemented for Local 592 once the remainder of the Catalyst locals have ratified their respective agreements.

As I stated at the beginning of this article it been a very difficult year for everyone with numerous challenges that we all had to overcome. The next few years will be equally challenging with more contentious issues that we will all have to deal with. November is rapidly approaching and with that are the elections for the executive board for 2009. Now is the time to start contemplating what direction you think this local should take, considering the year we have just gone through. Now is also the time to consider running for a position on the Executive if you want to make a difference. I personally have not made a decision on my future but having said that, I’m not a quitter. I will consider my options over the next several weeks.

Please try and make every effort to come out for the October General Meeting and be a part of the decision making process of this local. As I have said before this union is what you make it, so take part.

Pete Rayburn


  1. I have never written anything on the blog before but when I read your article I felt this would be as good a time as any to start. You know me Pete, if I have something to say I’m not one to sit back and say nothing. I have been working back here for about 4 months now and I just wanted to share my views on some of the things you said in your article.

    You said in your opening paragraph “some people had to set aside some very basic union principles in order to accept the changes needed for our survival”. I am certain that ALL OUR MEMBERS set aside SOME union principles for what you term “the survival of this mill.” Obviously I do not know which members you are referring to that “Have maintained those principles and unfortunately will do what ever it takes to make this agreement fail”, but. I think you may be highly underestimating the members of our local. I have worked with quite a cross section of members since I returned and all I see is every department doing more and more in order to try and make this mill viable. I will admit that there seems to be a great deal of disgruntled members that do not agree with various decisions being made but I would not constitute questioning and disagreement as doing whatever it takes to make the agreement fail. As I said Pete everyone had to set aside SOME of our union principals but I believe it is possible to hang on to our fundamental union values without, as you said, wanting this operation to fail and take the entire membership down with them.

    About your comments regarding the people below the lay off line, of which I am one. You are absolutely correct when you say that we knew where the cut off line was going to be and we had many opportunities to take severance and leave the mill, however,
    it was still our choice to leave or take our chances on work and retain our seniority and recall. We all knew the risk and why each member chose to stay is their business but personally I was simply not prepared to throw away my 24 plus years seniority. I thought, as did many on the list I am sure, that although I may not get steady employment I could possibly get the opportunity to exercise my mill seniority if needed for shortages, illnesses, to alleviate the high cost of overtime, work as labourers with contractors, to assist when needed as an alternative to contractors (gate hires) or for tank watch, fire watch, asbestos etc. This should not be an unreasonable expectation as it has always been the position of this local to use our laid off members for theses types of things. I can’t think of any other expectations the laid off members would have so I am a little confused when talking about the members below the line you said, “ So perhaps one should think of all the people that could be adversely affected by adhering to one’s deep rooted principles”. I am not really sure which “deep rooted principles” you are referring to?

    In regards to training you said, “After all, this whole exercise is about labour costs. We could choose to ignore the concerns of labour costs and just demand that we do things like we did in the past.” I am not suggesting we ignore the concerns of labour costs and I do understand your dilemma regarding training vs. cost. Nevertheless, if you do not spend the money in the short term to assure people are properly and adequately trained it will come back to cost you much more in the long run. I am not saying that we go back and train as in the past. If there were inefficiencies in that then certainly they need to be addressed. But I have to believe there is medium ground between the old way, as you call it, and the new fly by night, learn it on the fly approach being taken by some departments in our mill. Our members will be far more efficient and at ease doing their jobs if they get proper and structured training to give them the tools they need to know, understand and perform their jobs safely. I am not advocating unproductive, unnecessary and costly training; I don’t think anyone wants that. But there has to be some way of providing the proper training needed without “demanding that we do things just because that is how we did in the past”. We have all been around long enough to remember the days when almost all our jobs were learned on the fly. I am sure we can all recall the accidents, the numerous close calls and the countless horror stories due to shotty, do it yourself training. Remember the old adage” you don’t know, what you don’t know”’ When you talk about not doing things the way we did prior to this agreement because they are antiquated and costly, we must never forget that not so many years ago a young man paid the ultimate price due largely to an extremely inadequate training program. We came light years in our training and safety programs since then, let’s learn something from the past and not throw it ALL away in our quest for the almighty $80.00.

    Yes we are bound by this agreement for the next 5 years and from what I have seen it looks to me like everyone IS putting some effort into making it work. But questioning and wanting to maintain a certain level in areas such as safety, training, pride in their work and some of our fundamental union values should not be construed as roadblocks at every turn. Our members must be able to speak their minds without fear that they are going to be labeled as someone that is doing whatever it takes to make the agreement fail. No one knows the jobs better than the people doing them, sometimes as the saying goes “there is more than one way to skin a cat”. In my experience new ideas are a good thing. I just really hope there is room for rational alternatives and it is not my way or no way.

    No question, the agreement is here. Like it or not, agree with it or not, who voted for what, does not matter anymore. This union democratically voted in this agreement and I believe it is everyone’s intention to honor it and make this mill viable. After all, all our livelihoods hinge on the viability of this mill. There are going to be continuous challenges and constant decisions on how to balance respecting our core union principles and keeping the costs down and make this mill a success. Input from the Executive as well as the General Membership will be imperative. To achieve the goal of $80.00 per ton is an enormous task and will take time. And if we are to accomplish this it will require our Paper Machines to obtain consistent efficiencies much closer to their targets in order to minimize our struggles.

    Just my thoughts on things.

    Jim VanDusen

  2. Hi Jim,

    Thanks for your comment. There's not one point in your article that I can disagree with. Well maybe a few but they're trivial. In a perfect world I wish we could have done things a lot differently and more to your way of thinking because like I said I don't disagree with that. But the facts are that this mill did not have the luxury of time on its side in order to fix things or do a gradual change in the way we do things. One just has to look around at the rest of the industry to realize just how much trouble this operation was in and basically still is. I don't think there's much more I can say or do that will convince you or anyone else that what we did had to be done in an expidited fashion or face the reality of shutting the place down.