SPEECH BY NATIONAL PRESIDENT JOHN MACLENNAN
TO UNDE TRIENNIAL CONVENTION AUGUST 8, 2005
I want to welcome all UNDE delegates, observers, guests and staff to this, our 13th Triennial convention. Welcome to beautiful Halifax, called the Gateway to the Atlantic and also one of the gateways to this great country, our homeland and how fitting that is. Our own convention will be the gateway to the upcoming three years.
As you well know, the last three years have brought us our share of challenges and our share of victories as well. As we find ourselves gathered here this week, let me remind you that we have been called upon to represent the thousands of UNDE members who have chosen us to speak on their behalf and to make the decisions that will bring us into this next phase.
We will be asked to look closely at the issues of concern to UNDE members. Our membership has given a lot of thought to the resolutions submitted to this Convention. Together, we will debate these resolutions and vote on them. In the end, we will have to make informed, conscious, honest decisions that will be in the best interest of the entire UNDE membership.
Our decisions will set our unionís course for the next three years and our decisions must adversely impact the employer and not our members if we are to reverse some of the trends that are threatening the principles and the rights we hold dear and for which we have fought long and hard.
Letís talk for a minute about those challenges that are ongoing and those we had to overcome since our last Convention. And there were many.
Let me begin with collective bargaining. The employer once again ignored our demands and pushed us to the point where we were forced to take remedial action, to exercise our right to strike for our Treasury Board members. Even then, we didnít obtain everything we were asking for. And Sisters and Brothers if we thought the last round was difficult, weíll have our work cut out for us next time. We must recognize that future bargaining rounds are going to be weaker than what we have enjoyed over the years, due to the introduced legislation known as the Public Service Modernization Act.
This act in itself erodes the rights to free collective bargaining, erodes the rights contained in our own constitution as a union. And let me give you an example, once we have received a strike mandate from our membership, we must take strike action within 90 days otherwise we are required to go to the membership and obtain another strike mandate. The PSMA also attacks the integrity of our own constitution and bylaws. For instance, Rand members and members such as scabs who have been disciplined are entitled to vote on our ratification kits. As you can see, the government can now change the rules midstream and legislation will support it. The PSMA is clearly a union-busting piece of legislation. Also a recent amendment to the Public Service Employment Act an amendment that was so fast tracked, faster than back to work legislation will now allow military personnel while still in uniform apply for competitions that will lead to interrupting career mobility for our members and a breeding ground for further abuse of the staffing process. Sisters and Brothers, despite this unfair legislation we are now faced with, we must maintain our strength and integrity in order to uphold the dignity we have worked long and hard for. As a union, we must be creative in interrupting the changes to the PSMA, an act that erodes our rights and sours the fruits of our labour that we have achieved over the last four decades.
But, our challenges do not stop there. Within our own department, we are facing DNDís aggressive agenda to restructure land forces bases. The department is focusing all of its attention on land forces, to the point of neglecting other environments within the department, such as the Air Force, Navy and Headquarters areas. What will this mean for our membership?
Together, we are also going to face the Chief of Defence Staffís vision and will to Americanize our Canadian military. But, are we American? No, weíre Canadian and we do things the Canadian way! Letís not forget that several decades ago, our country proudly won a Nobel Peace Prize for changing peacemaking into peacekeeping. There are now elements in the Department which want to go back to peacemaking. What will this mean for our membership? I was recently called to meet with the Chief of Defence Staff who has served notice to our union and membership to engage ourselves as a deployable element to volatile areas such as Afghanistan. You heard right! Our members could be called upon to support military operations abroad in the jobs we do today. In turn, I put the Chief of Defence Staff on notice that these assignments will in no case be mandatory. As well, rest assured that no commitment has been made and the jury is still out until we have collected all the information so well informed decisions can be made on this very large question now in front of our membership. For example the department must understand that any one member who goes abroad shall receive the same benefits and rights as our military counterparts enjoy when deployed to operational theatres. Any one member who enters a high risk operational theatre that will be exposed to potential life threatening situations, full liability must rest with the employer. So Sister and Brothers to that end, there are many highlights that need to be addressed and questions answered before we can consider any commitment to the new vision on the role of our membership as Public Service employees in the Department of National Defence.
Overall the Department is on an aggressive agenda to restructure the Canadian Armed Forces over the next 12 to 15 months. An example of this is now realized right here in the Atlantic provinces known as Joint Task Force Atlantic which will be the pilot to stream line the decision making when our Armed Forces are called upon reacting to any natural disasters, protecting our sovereignty, and the fight against terrorism. This Joint Task Force Atlantic will be quarterbacked by a Land Forces General who will commit our Naval and Air Force environments in protecting our Homeland security or responding to Natural disasters. This will also be a reality for Eastern, Central, Western and Northern regions in Canada over the next 12 to 15 months and once again what will this mean to our membership.
Together, we will face initiatives aimed at doing away with our rights and jobs. Still to this day, we are faced with threats of privatization, downsizing and possible base closures: Gander, Goose Bay, Bagotville are all on the radar.
As you know, continuous efforts have been made to breathe new life into the Canadian Forces installations and make good use of the incredible facilities we have that would be the envy of many countries. For instance, we are continuing to convince the federal government to move the military's Joint Task Force 2 commando unit from Ottawa to Goose Bay, Labrador, to keep that remote base open. We are continuing to lobby federal ministers to move JTF2, a plan that also has support from a Goose Bay citizens' coalition.
For our private sector members, these private companiesí awarded defence contracts must be disciplined for not adhering to Health and Safety legislation and must be taken to task not respecting negotiated settlements at the bargaining table. As a Union we have an obligation to stand shoulder to shoulder with our Sisters and Brothers in the private sector so they can reach the level of respect and dignity our Treasury Board and Separate Employer members enjoy today.
I have just gone over some of our challenges. But, as we know, Sisters and Brothers, our union is famous for rising to challenges. And we do it in a big way! Let me speak about some of our victories.
Last Convention gave our union the mandate to organize the unorganized at military facilities or bases. Today, I am glad to say that we have met the mandate and organized 5 PSAC/UNDE locals. That is a victory! Members from those locals are represented here today by first-time delegates. Please join me in welcoming them aboard.
We made gains as well in the area of collective bargaining. Through Treasury Board strike action, the employer was forced to recognize the discrimination in wages for Table 2 members and would never have reached that point if we hadnít pushed for recognition of the Wage Parity Study. That is a victory! We will continue to apply the pressures necessary to eliminate zone rates of pay introduced in 1922. You will no doubt agree with me that our reality in 2005 is very different from what it was at that time, some 90 years ago. Itís high time something is done about that disparity and this issue will remain front and center for us.
In the last round of collective bargaining, we set up a new structure for our bargaining teams. First of all, we put together smaller teams, then we prioritized our bargaining demands based on the membersí wishes, what they wanted to see as new language, added to the collective agreements. We also streamlined the process to hopefully achieve a collective agreement faster than last roundís, which on the unionís part, was done in good faith. From the employerís perspective, they continue to demonstrate a cold-hearted approach and disrespect for what they classify as their most valuable resource Ė our membership. From UNDEís perspective, we proudly represented not just UNDE membersí issues but all PSAC membersí issues by having UNDE members elected to the bargaining teams in large numbers. At Table 1, 2 UNDE members were elected out of a 10 member team. At Table 2, 4 UNDE members were elected out of a 7 member team and a UNDE member was elected as 1st alternate. At Table 3 and 5, we were not so fortunate but UNDE Table 1 and 2 members who were elected to bargaining teams raised the bar and showed UNDE members were major participants in this last round of negotiations and we showed that UNDE members can be counted on to defend the rights of all members. That is a victory we will continue to build on!
Also, we cannot forget another victory. Our ten collective agreements for our lowest paid members employed by PSP and Canex. We were able to achieve for these members wage increases averaging between 10 and 11% which in this day and age is unheard of.
During the last round of negotiations our members employed at the Communications Security Establishment were able to achieve what this government took away from our Treasury Board members and reached an agreement with their employer to have a Universal Classification System known as Unison negotiated at the bargaining table with salary bands included.
Allow me now to provide a little more background on the issue of apprenticeship of our skilled trades. In the last round of collective bargaining with Treasury Board, the PSAC had a proposal for the Operational Services group, the Table 2 group, for a new article in the collective agreement on Apprenticeship. We proposed this new language because it was our hope, through the negotiations process, to encourage the establishment of a comprehensive apprenticeship program within the federal government. As you no doubt know, the final agreement we reached did not address this issue.
About two years ago, the department provided us with data on anticipated retirements from several of the classification sub-groups where we had skilled trades workers. The data looked at eligible and expected retirements between 2003 and 2013. This is what that picture looks like:
To be clear, close to 50 % of all heavy duty equipment mechanics, carpenters, stationary engineers, electricians, building maintenance, heating and air conditioning mechanics, plumbers and pipefitters as well as tradeshelpers will be retiring over the next 8 years.
You will agree with me that we need to continue to push to regenerate the trades and make sure that the services we so efficiently provide will continue to be there for all Canadians. On June 6, 2005, we were successful in extracting from the Department a promise of 1.8 million dollars in funding dedicated to a trade apprenticeship programÖand itís just a beginning we want the same applied for our Table 1, 3 and 5 members. That, Brothers and Sisters, is another one of our victories!
But perhaps the greatest victory of all came for us on November 7, 2002. It was the conclusion of our toughest fight, the fight against privatization of the supply chain. And this challenge was not for the weak of heart and we were greatly tested. The project was already on its own trajectory and could very well have unfolded as planned. But, we simply refused to stand by and watch events unfold. We mobilized and stuck to our guns. Sisters and Brothers talk about tenacity!
This tenacity we showed during that period will be put to the test over the next three years as well.
Since this Liberal government came into power in 1993, we have managed to hold our own against this ruthless and shameless government. Donít forget that itís still the same government today (although now, itís a minority government). The same government, using the same tactics to undermine the welfare, the livelihood, the integrity of our membership and trying to chip away at the respect we earned and deserve.
The governmentís agenda is focusing on centralization of services that may impact areas such as procurement, IT support and travel, to name a few. When it comes to restructuring government, when it applies to National Defence, our Department is maintaining its longstanding practice of notification instead of consultation. The Department claims to be gathering information. Well, Sisters and Brothers, if the Department wants information, who better to provide it than its own employees? Our membership!
But there are various measures we can take to strategically position ourselves to meet challenges head-on.
We must be prepared to align ourselves with each other in a show of solidarity to respond proactively at all times, and failing that to get the attention of the employer. We must strategically increase our campaigns so we will be prepared to reach out to those in our communities, such as youth, the business community, and all those affected by the same issues as our members such as privatization, downsizing or Base closures.
We must continue to build coalitions in our fight against adverse decisions from of all employers, be it Treasury Board, Separate Operating Agencies or private sector.
We must also pay attention and protect our considerable resources, to use them wisely in order to maintain a ďwar chestĒ we can rely upon when the time comes to deploy our full artillery.
We must be prepared to maintain the skill sets we have acquired and continue to push to protect the trades that contribute still today to building our country.
As a union, we have a responsibility to broaden our education program, to create greater awareness amongst our membership about legislation, employer initiatives and departmental plans that will adversely impact our members. If we are to generate change within our workplaces, our communities and beyond, we have a responsibility also to expand our activist base, to recruit new members and to retain the members we can already count on.
We have a responsibility to reach out to the grassroots members and provide them with the tools and ammunition that fit the task ahead.
We have a responsibility to protect workers who are still at risk in the workplace, to make sure that health and safety legislation is strictly observed.
And last but not least we also have a responsibility to ensure that our equity members and groups, within our workplaces and also within our own structures, enjoy the rights that so many take for granted.
Sisters and Brothers, I have provided you with a broad picture of the challenges and victories of the past three years. I have also given you a snapshot of what lies ahead for us as a union. Hopefully, this will guide us in the decisions we will be called upon to make during this Convention. I know that the task before you might appear very daunting but, in fact, it is no different from what you do every day as union members and activists: get answers to your questions, obtain all the information you need, make sure you understand the issues and make decisions that you know are in everyoneís best interest. We must all walk away from this convention proud of the work we have accomplished and ready to show every employer from private sector, Treasury Board or Separate Agencies what our union is made of: integrity, honesty and tenacity.