LOCAL UNION 636 OF THE INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF ELECTRICAL WORKERS AN OVERVIEW OF OUR HISTORY AND STRUCTURE
IN THE BEGINNING
Many years ago, there were a number of affiliated Locals of the I.B.E.W. that represented Utility workers in Ontario. However, since each was operating independently, they lacked common goals and a coordinated direction in negotiations. At that same time, the Association of Municipal Electric Utilities (A.M.E.U.) was formed to represent Utility employers using a coordinated management approach.
Soon, the Local Unions realized that they were not achieving the optimal improvements in wages and benefits available through collective bargaining. Realizing that there was a need for greater unity on the part of the Union, the representatives from all I.B.E.W. Utility Locals banded together in the Ontario Utility Council (O.U.C.). This organization met voluntarily on a semi-annual basis. Initially, representatives were excited by the opportunity to discuss mutual problems and form common goals and strategies.
However, it soon became evident that the O.U.C. could not implement its many recommendations, nor control contract negotiations as it did not have a direct mandate from the separate memberships it represented. As a result, the Local Unions continued to be divided and defeated by a group of full-time management professionals with access to a well-established communications network and reams of statistical information. At that time, there was only one (1) full time Utility Local Business Manager in the Province and networking with other part-time Locals was slow and ineffective.
Recognizing that this situation had to be addressed, a motion calling for the compulsory merger of all Utility Local Unions was passed at the 1975 fall O.U.C. meeting. While many agreed that this motherhood proposal was a good idea, they realized that in reality it was unattainable on a compulsory basis. This meant that the problem remained as to how these Locals would effectively deal with separate Utility Commissions across the Province who shared common goals and were working collectively through an Association. Although they too recognized the need for more focused efforts, our separate Local Unions were, in many cases, reluctant to give up their individual autonomy. In addition, despite the obvious benefits, the thought of increasing Union dues to provide full time representation was staunchly opposed by many.
However, Local 636 knew that in order to protect and promote the rights of Utility workers, there was no alternative but to attempt amalgamation on a voluntary basis. With this thought in mind, our Local began meeting with other individual Locals to discuss the concept.
The proposal to form a Local with provincial jurisdiction and representation rights was presented, discussed and debated by interested individual Locals. In the final analysis, the majority of Locals began to understand that their livelihood and survival required reorganization and unity. Over the next few years, the idea became a reality and many mergers followed; resulting in the expansion of Local 636 to its present size and structure.
The realization of our goal was a difficult one, but today we proudly represent over 85% of the I.B.E.W. Utility workers in the Province - perhaps we will some day represent all organized workers in this industry. Respecting the right of all workers to organize, we will continue in our efforts to increase our membership and provide support to those seeking representation.
After almost two decades, the Local's building in Toronto was sold and our headquarters was relocated to Mississauga. We are very proud of our new facility, which reflects the professional image that has earned our organization respect throughout the Union movement. As well as being the hub of our administrative operation, the site is also the location for all Executive Board, Table Officer and Committee meetings.
In addition to our Mississauga location, we also have satellite offices in Chatham-Kent, Niagara Falls, Ottawa, Orillia, Windsor and LaSalle. Each of these is equipped with: a fax machine; computer with e-mail access; an answering machine and/or voice mail for after hours calls. This ensures that the full time Business Representatives are accessible through a variety of channels. As well, the Reps have smart phones and laptops which are crucial in the day - to - day servicing of our diverse membership. In most cases, a member's call will be returned within twenty-four (24) hours.
It should come as no surprise to learn that our Local is called upon to deal with many legal problems - which seem to have increased due to constantly changing government legislation aimed directly at organized labour. In order to ensure that we are able to properly defend ourselves - and our members - Local 636 retains the Toronto Labour Law firm of Koskie Minsky to assist us in dealing with the many legal issues which continue to surface. As well as keeping us abreast of the latest developments in legislation, most grievances that proceed to arbitration are also handled by our lawyers.
Anyone who has ever experienced an injury on the job is certainly well aware that the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (W.S.I.B.) bureaucracy has made processing injured workers claims a nightmare. Consequently, dealing with such issues calls for the expertise of specialists. The time necessary to process W.S.I.B. claims and appeals was a real burden to our Business Representatives. Therefore, we turned these cases over to the experts at the Building Trades Workers' Services who deal exclusively with such matters. Their competence and experience in handling these cases now allows our staff more time to concentrate on servicing the day-to-day needs of our membership.
There have also been many changes to the face of Health and Safety in the workplace. For many years, Local 636 has been represented on the Electrical & Utilities Safety Association (E.U.S.A.) Board of Directors as well as the Provincial Labour Management Safety Committee. Our involvement in these organizations has provided us with the latest information on the ever-changing safety standards and regulations in the industries we represent - and given our members a voice in the discussions aimed at providing safe working conditions for both them and others.
EDUCATION AND TRAINING
Local Union 636 has always recognized that one of the most critical elements in our success is keeping our members well informed. To fulfill this requirement, we have an Education Officer whose principal responsibility is to develop educational materials for our members that will help them better understand the challenges faced by organized labour and; to develop training programs for those acting in a leadership capacity that will allow them to more effectively fulfill the obligations of office.
Among the educational services afforded to our members are: New Member Orientation; Steward Training; Mastering the Art of Negotiations; Leadership Development and; How to Deal with Workplace Harassment. These courses are offered on an on-going basis across the Province and are all free of charge to our members. Additionally, our Unit Chairpersons meet on an annual basis to be updated, educated and provided with statistics, information and training to assist them in the performance of their duties.
Local 636 is very proud of the variety of services that we are able to provide for our members. Like any organization, in order to ensure that such services are maintained at the level of excellence that our members deserve, it is necessary to have sufficient financial resources. For unions, operational funding comes directly (and exclusively) from the members in the form of Dues. The formula for determining the amount paid by the members is developed by the Local Union and approved by the general membership.
When Local 636 was initially founded, there was a great deal of controversy and debate as to the most appropriate dues structure for our members. This was due in part to the fact that, some of the affiliates who had merged had fixed rates established while others calculated the remittances based on the earnings of the member.
The greatest difficulty with the fixed monthly amount was that it failed to keep up with the ever-increasing costs faced by the Local. This resulted in periodic requests for dues increases - that were never popular. While membership dues are fully tax deductible, few embrace the thought of having to pay more. Nevertheless, our members began to appreciate the reality that by investing in their Union they were also investing in themselves.
As an alternative to the flat fee approach, the Local began to explore the advantages of a dues formula based on a percentage of earnings. Such systems were designed to provide increased operating income as wages were increased through negotiations. More importantly, once established, such a formula would eliminate the need for increase appeals since our revenues would be automatically adjusted. Ultimately, after much deliberation, the Local set the dues structure at one percent (1%) of the member's gross monthly earnings - exclusive of overtime - plus the prevailing International Union per capita tax. This formula worked for many years but eventually, the increases were not keeping pace with our expanding operating costs.
Ongoing attacks by the Government and increasingly hostile employers put a great strain on our resources. Although not yet at the crisis level, by 1998, the membership recognized the need to revisit our dues formula. With this in mind, the Executive Board recommended that the dues be increased to one point one percent (1.1%) of gross basic monthly pay exclusive of overtime and lump sum payments (e.g.clothing and boot allowance etc.) in addition to the applicable International per capita tax, which is presently $17.00 per month. This motion was subsequently supported by the general membership in a secret ballot vote. Somewhat controversial at the time, this modest increase has given our Local the financial security necessary to deal with the many obstacles we face.
Admittedly, there are those who still support the concept of fixed dues. However, given the diversity of our membership and the wide range of their wage rates, we are confident that our dues formula is the most fair and equitable for all. Regardless of their contribution, all members are provided with the best representation available. Additionally, through such contributions, our Local is able to provide our members with a wide variety of services that would otherwise not be available. With our members each contributing their fair share, they also reap the benefits of belonging to an organization that is able to work towards improving their quality of life and provide them with the representation that they need and deserve.
It has now been more than ninety years since Local Union 636 first earned the right to represent workers in Ontario. Over that period, our profile may have changed but our guiding principles have not. Yesterday, today and tomorrow, we remain committed to protecting and enhancing the rights and benefits of our members.
Standing together in partnership and solidarity with our members, we have succeeded in slaying the many dragons that have crossed our path. Others will undoubtedly await us along our journey. With the continued support of our members, we are confident that there is no challenge too great to overcome.