After four terms of fighting for labour rights, Doug Jones, the longest serving Steelworkers Local 480 president, is calling it a day.
April 30 is the official day of retirement for Jones, a local man whose career started at Cominco shortly after the smelter’s long and tumultuous strike in 1974.
“I actually started work at Cominco in ‘71, but quit for various reasons and worked elsewhere in different parts of B.C.,” said Jones.
“I came back at the end of ‘73 just when the workers were getting ready to prepare for the ‘74 strike.”
It was during that strike that Jones got his first taste of union affairs, when he was asked to organize workers from Quadra, a local chainsaw manufacturer, to join the Steelworkers Union.
Jones said he was fortunate to learn the ropes from one of the best mediators in the province.
“The staff rep in Trail during that strike, was Vince Ready, who is now quite a famous arbitrator,” Jones explained.
Although the merge into the Steelworkers was unsuccessful, Jones remained active in the union after the strike, when he began to work for Cominco once again.
This time, he stayed for 28 years, employed as a firefighter in Teck’s fire department.
“Back in 1969, the original fire department came to Teck from the municipality of Tadanac,” said Jones. “So we had a different pay system than everyone else at Cominco.
“Whenever the company wanted to change our pay scale, I was one of the workers, always down at the union hall, as a shop steward or a safety rep.”
Jones said that in 2001, the last time a pay change was proposed, he was down at the union hall when someone suggested that he run for a position.
“So, I actually ran for president in 2003 and was elected into the position,” he said.
Although Jones recalled the high points of his career as being really good outcomes of arbitration for the membership; they were counter balanced by some low points as well.
“The low point was the strike of 2005.”
Jones said that it was a time when the workers were just ready to take the company on; but the company didn’t like the union and the union didn’t like the company.
“In retrospect, I didn’t have as much experience as I should have had,” he said.
“Let me just say that the union didn’t get off on such a great foot with the company back then.
“The company wasn’t very forgiving in those days, and there weren’t good feelings on either side.”
Jones said that in a battle for pension and pension benefits, the union and membership managed to weather the storm.
“We were out for a long time, but in the end, we knew what we did, and that we had really accomplished something important.”
The last agreement that Jones and his local 480 team arbitrated, began negotiations in April 2012.
By mid-June, members of locals 480 and 9705 United Steelworkers, put final signatures on a collective agreement that carried an 18 per cent increase over five years of the contract, a 12 per cent boost in pension, and a $10,000 signing bonus.
“We managed to accomplish some really good things for our membership in that arbitration, definitely a high point,” said Jones.
Even with the significant positive outcomes that Jones and his team negotiated in the last two contracts, he said that what he is really proud of, is the day-to-day issues that his team resolves at the union hall.
“When you are in a position like I was, it isn’t about looking for glory or accolades,” he said.
“Everyone down at the union plays a big role in what happens, and it is about getting the job done and looking after all the workers.
“My job was to support everyone at the union in their jobs, and I was really fortunate to have a good group.”
Jones was elected for three terms and retained the chair by proclamation in 2012.
After 10 years of working side by side with Jones, current vice president Armindo deMedeiros, will officially assume the position of President of the Steelworkers Local 480 on May 1.
“During Doug’s terms here, we accomplished many good things for the membership,” said deMedeiros. “And a lot of it will go down as part of Local 480 history.”
Who takes over?
What happens under the Steelworkers constitution when the president retires, or the position becomes vacant, is that the existing vice president automatically assumes that position for the remaining term.
Jones has served one year of his fourth term, and now Armindo deMedeiros, current vice president, will become president after Jones’ official day of retirement on April 30. If, when the term ends in 2015, deMedeiros decides to run for president, an election will ensue.
“There are big campaigns that go on during an election for president,” said Jones. “It is a huge event.”