Hard to believe that the United Steelworkers Local 480 has been representing workers at the company on the hill for 50 years. The Steelworkers successfully took over from the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers Union in 1967. To celebrate, a special banquet was held at the hall on Portland Street recently for members and guests.
President Armindo deMedieros told a crowd of 100 people about the history of the Local and how it has been active and victorious for working people.
“Local 480 is one of the largest Locals in Western Canada,” he said. “Through collective bargaining, we have been able to bargain decent wages, better medical and dental, reasonable pensions, and life insurance coverage for its members.”
He explained how the Steelworkers are pioneers in the field of occupational health and safety, having implemented the Health, Safety and Environment Committee, which insures that the company meets its responsibilities and obligations to provide a healthy and safe workplace. This has led to full-time safety coordinators working out of the Local 480 office.
Steelworkers have also worked to provide a harassment-free environment at all work sites, deMedieros said, democratically passing tough meaningful anti-sexual and anti-harassment policies.
Through the Steelworkers Young Program, the union is providing information for young workers to put their ideas and activism to work. The program also educates students on their rights to know and refuse unsafe work.
Workers at Teck contribute one per cent of their wages to the Steelworkers Humanity Fund to help Third World countries. These funds are matched by Teck to support international projects such as food, education, housing, civil, labour and social rights issues.
Local 480 was also very instrumental in establishing and running the company’s Learning Centre, helping to increase support for literacy and skills training, and ensuring that trade unionists can read their collective agreements and access personal and job-related benefits.
“In Trail, Steelworkers are not only involved with smelter issues but are also very active in the community and the surrounding area,” deMedieros said. “Our presence and involvement range from Extended Care dinners, pensioners picnics, Minor Hockey Day pancake breakfasts, plus donating to hockey and baseball teams, service groups and special needs. Through BBQs, Local 480 is able to fund the Gordy Steep Sick Children’s Memorial Fund, which assists families with travel and accommodations to out-of-town medical treatments.”
Union members also provide scholarships and bursaries for local and surrounding schools and participate with ICBC in the Road Sense Ranger Program, reaching out to the public on the dangers of drinking and driving.
Every year, Steelworkers lead the April 28th Day of Mourning for workers killed or injured on the job.
As unions grow, so do the creations of laws to protect all workers: health and safety acts, pensions, workers compensation, employee standards and labour relations acts, deMedeiros said. Whether one works in the public or private section or is unionized or non-unionized, all wage earners benefit from gains made by unions.
“In closing, I would like to say that we will continue to strive for social justice for our members and will continue as a force for good in our society.”
Local 480 history
1967 – United Steelworkers of America successfully took over the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers Union headed by Albert King, who had served six terms as president.
1972 – A short strike resulted in a disgruntled membership and the demise of the executive.
1974 – A four-month strike under president Marv McLean. The Local was successful in making significant changes to the working environment, brought in the current Pension plan which went from a wage related pension that saw workers making a high wage getting a decent pension and those making a low wage receiving a poor pension. The current pension allows the same pension for every worker and is based on years of service. CBC made a documentary about Trail and its labour issues called “Where You Going Company Town.”
1978 – Marv McLean passed away suddenly. The new president was Larry Whyte, who lead a successful fight to stop uranium mining in Northern B.C.
1978 – Three work related deaths in four months resulted in a two-day Wildcat strike lead by Doug Swanson. It resulted in two full-time Safety Reps paid by the company working out of the Union hall. The Union Safety committee went on to become the benchmark for Steelworkers around the world.
1980 – Ken Georgetti was installed as president. When the company began downsizing and it became apparent that some of the membership had literacy issues, Georgetti started a literacy program that was very beneficial to the workforce. He also oversaw the shower-time grievance, in which workers fought for 15 minutes of paid shower time. This was to prevent lead and other contaminants from going home and being exposed to family members. Coveralls and towels were also provided to workers. Georgetti became a prominent leader of the B.C. Federation of Labour and then moved on to become the President of the Canadian Labour Congress – the most decorated president in 480 history.
1987 – A strike was extended to three months after Local 480 signed a contract one month before Local 9705 (office and technical workers) and then had to honour the picket lines for an additional month.
1990 – After the QSL lead furnace failed, the company used excess power from the Waneta Dam to keep employees paid while they built the new Kivcet furnace. Doug Swanson and John Wurflinger, as successive presidents, led the Union through the tough times of the 1990’s when the company downsized and laid off close to 1,000 employees.
2005 – A three-month strike under president Doug Jones, fought against pension concessions. the company decided that with a new executive they would test the water and put concessions in the form of Pensions and Pension benefits for all new employees on the bargaining table, which other companies were successful in doing. The Union was successful in fighting to keep the pensions and benefits.
2006 – After a number of retirees suffered from asbestos exposure, the Union investigated and found that there was a substantial issue with asbestos-related disease. President Doug Jones and vice-president Armindo deMedeiros produced a documentary, “Asbestos, the Silent Killer” with the hopes that the company would help retired workers with asbestos-related health issues and the widows of the workers who passed away from these diseases, mostly mesothelioma. Two of those workers passed away while the documentary was being filmed. The Local received the Karen Silkwood award for the film and since then, the Workers Compensation Board now has a registry file for workers suffering from asbestos exposure.
2008 – Successful collective bargaining resulted in a huge increase to pensions and wages.
2012 – Armindo deMedeiros became president. Improvements to pensions and wages were again achieved through collective bargaining.
2017– The latest round of collective bargaining resulted in more improvements for workers and pensions as well as a $14,500 signing bonus for every union member at Teck.