Months of failed negotiations led to a 94 per cent strike vote from unionized staff at Kootenay Savings Credit Union (KSCU) on Tuesday.
The news came from members of the United Steelworkers Local 9705 (Trail) and Local 1-405 in Cranbrook, representing 110 employees at KSCU branches and offices in Trail, Fruitvale, Salmo, Castlegar, South Slocan, Kaslo and Kimberley.
The key sticking points after 17 meetings revolve around pension protection, no wage increase for two years, limiting health benefits and hours of work in the new Member Service Centre.
“We’ve been at this for six months,” says Dean Lott, USW staff representative. “What we’ve really been trying to achieve is a fair collective agreement, but this has just dragged on and on. We’ve given a number of proposals to resolve it, but the employer has stuck to the pension issue and two years of zeros.”
This was an issue in the last round of bargaining in 2011, said Lott, lead negotiator of the pension language issue.
“This issue was arbitrated by Vince Ready and he found in favour of the union, and we’re not prepared to give that language up, ” he added. “We understand the pressures put upon this employer and other Credit Unions in the region.
“In the current low-interest rate environment they are not making the money they used to. But that being said, our members are doing more and more with less.”
Cutting positions, not replacing people when they leave or retire, and distributing the duties to the remaining members has workers struggling to keep up, said Lott.
“But they do, and by the looks of the balance sheet – KSCU made $2.3 million in 2015 – our members are doing a great job,” he emphasized. “The strike vote is a strong message to the employer; our members are doing their part and they deserve better.”
The strike vote is good for 90 days, and for now, there will not be job action.
The USW Bargaining committee remains committed to achieving a fair collective agreement prior to any job action and has agreed with the employer to involve a provincial mediator from the Labour Relations Branch of BC, Lott concluded.
Those meeting dates are to be scheduled in the very near future.