Kootenay Savings announced Wednesday morning that it will lockout employees on Friday.
Talks between the United Steelworkers (USW) and Kootenay Savings Credit Union (KSCU) stalled once again on Monday, due largely to an impasse reached over pension language in the collective agreement, and since then both sides have taken action with KSCU announcing the lockout and USW members engaging in a work-to-rule campaign, which could lead to a strike.
“I believe that due to the employer’s stance on the pension issue, the probability for a strike or lockout by the employer is very high; in fact, almost a certainty until the employer changes their position,” Jeff Bromley, business agent and financial secretary for USW Local 1-405, told the News Monday morning, before KSCU announced the lockout.
“We feel our only recourse at this point is to initiate a one-day lockout to persuade the Union to return to negotiate a fair collective agreement, and to help us address our critical issues while minimizing the impact to our employees and members,” read the KSCU press release.
Branches in Castlegar, Trail, Fruitvale, Salmo, South Slocan, Kaslo and Kimberley will close on Friday, due to the lockout, while branches in Nakusp, New Denver, Invermere and Radium Hot Springs will be unaffected and remain open. KSCU says that all employees are expected to return to work on Oct. 29 or 31.
The work-to-rule campaign includes union members handing out leaflets to credit union members, employees refusing to work overtime and not accepting in-charge positions (a person is designated in charge when there is no manager present). Bromley said the next step will be to initiate rotating strikes across unionized branches of Kootenay Savings in the East and West Kootenays.
The pension issue
Kootenay Savings addressed its position on the pension issue in a press release it sent out Tuesday afternoon. “Unlike other employers who may control decisions regarding their pension plans, Kootenay Savings belongs to a multiemployer plan where all decisions regarding the Plan are made by a Board of Trustees,” said the release.
“Out of 25 credit unions participating in the BC Credit Union Defined Pension Plan, we are the only one with collective agreement language that holds us to unlimited financial liability for any changes the Trustees may make to plan benefits,” the release continued. “These changes are out of our control, yet we are bound by their decisions.”
In response, USW Locals 9705 and 1-405 have offered to come back to the table if KSCU is put in an untenable position.
“We thought we had a route to finding a resolution,” Dean Lott, lead negotiator for USW, said in a release sent out Monday night. “Otherwise we have also offered to get back together should something happen and resolve the issue should any changes put KSCU in a financial [sic] untenable position.
“The Credit Union Pension Plan is in good financial shape. The Trustees have made changes during the latest valuation (September 30, 2016) that has vastly improved the position of the plan. The employer is stuck on what may happen, what if’s, and no one has a crystal ball.
“We’re proposing being partners in this if there’s a problem and KSCU’s future is affected. The employer doesn’t agree. They aren’t willing to cover the liability that the current language states they must.”
In Tuesday’s press release, KSCU said that it has offered to “fund a very lucrative supplemental retirement allowance on an annual basis to provide another layer of protection to employees, in the event of future changes if they were to occur.”
While pension language is the main point of contention, the USW said that it also considers the issues of wages, working hours for the new Member Service Center, vacation allotment and scheduling, and improvements to the employee banking benefits provision to be outstanding.
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