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enormous profits
air let out of the balloons


Many companies, thankfully, are accepting that, information disclosure to unions and the willingness to consult with unions on overall business objectives and competitiveness, will foster more cooperative relationships. And also, what is happening is, many companies and unions are recognizing that where a dysfunctional relationship exists, the relationship must be improved and they are getting help to improve it.

Now, here are the points of caution about all this change, and how the unions can come on side, and the employees can adapt a lot better. Companies must be careful not to create a major trust gap between management and the unionized work force by preaching the need for radical changes to remain competitive by so called "gutting the collective agreement", while the companies are amassing enormous profits and executives are receiving enormous pay increases and bonuses. There is nothing worse than me going to the bargaining table with Fletcher Challenge and trying to mediate a dispute after 5 weeks and the union is quoting from the industry (not so much from Fletcher Challenge but from all over the industry) about this executive got this many million dollars in bonuses, this executive got this much in salary last year, this company amassed this much profit, the shareholders are getting this much back. And the union workers are saying how come they are coming at us, why don't they cut back on their own side of the house. So I say - caution to management is to make sure you don't create that trust gap, because if you have got that trust gap at that level, you are not going to build a trust balance at the working level. And also, companies must be careful to foster the image of a caring employer by paying attention to environmental issues, by paying attention to health and safety concerns, and by investing capital in technology and updating the infrastructure.

Now, what is the backdrop against where all this is happening. Well, there are positive signs. Legal work stoppages are at the lowest in decades, and as a result of action taken by pulp companies, forest companies and mining companies in the 70's and the 80's, illegal work stoppages are by far the exception. Illegal work stoppages at the Labour Relations Board are called "Part Five's", because it is dealt with under part five of the code. When I was the registrar from '81 to '84 we had literally dozens of 'Part Five's' a week, on the basis that there were illegal work stoppages all over the place for everything under the sun from changing work rules, from 'how dare they' (management gave a letter of reprimand to an employee who happens to be a shop steward), you all remember those days. They downed the tools in a flash. Those resulted in some pretty costly lawsuits against the unions, and in addition to that, more responsibility by the unions. Illegal work stoppages, thankfully, are the exception now.

Collective Bargaining is certainly working with well over 90% of the 5000 collective agreements settled without a work stoppage. The food industry strike that is on right now with 13,000 workers (there hasn't been a food industry strike since 1969). The hotel industry strike that is sporadic at the present time (there hasn't been a hotel industry strike for years and years). Now, not that they are symptomatic of something coming on the horizon (being the mediator involved in both those disputes), there had to be some air let out of the balloons in both those cases.

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