MBLL Concessionary Bargaining Hits a Sour Note
Nov 24, 2014
What for the past few years could be considered a disturbing trend seems to be gaining greater traction in Canadian public sector collective bargaining.
A recent example of this concerns the current situation with negotiations between the MGEU and the recently amalgamated entity known as Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries.
The merging of the former Manitoba Liquor Control Commission and Manitoba Lotteries Corporation has been a very profitable one for the provincial government. The new organization has already saved themselves over $35 million by amalgamating, not to mention the millions saved in pension liability. These savings will continue year after year. Yet the employer wants to introduce concessions that would threaten some of the most crucial cornerstones of the agreement that have been negotiated over dozens of years.
The GOLICO Bargaining Committee has been in negotiations with the employer for a new collective agreement since May 2014, after agreeing to a one-year extension to give the merger issues time to settle. The goal of the Committee was simple and straightforward – ask for a reasonable wage increase (after two years of no increases at all) and get some improvements to benefits. The biggest membership demand was “no concessions” – don’t let the employer chip away at an agreement that has taken decades to build.
But what the employer had to offer was very much different from that. On Thursday, October 22, the employer presented a final offer to the Bargaining Committee which included eliminating the retirement/termination allowance for new employees, the elimination of sick days and a major dismantling of the current benefits package.
What the employer wants is to implement a benefit package at the cost of many good things for employees in the agreement – things the GOLICO Bargaining Committee believes members hold near and dear. The employer wants to take away sick days and replace them with something that is more difficult to accrue and use, and is valued at 66% less than what the members currently have. They want to dismantle the current benefit plan and replace it with one that will save them even more, while making members think that it is a better deal if they’re not prepared to take the time to read the fine print.
And speaking of fine print, the employer can’t offer any on the proposed new benefit plan, because it doesn’t exist. They want to remove current articles and memorandums in the agreement but have given nothing in writing to replace this. The union requires text. They employer wants the membership to trust them and take them at their word that sometime in 2016 they will provide benefit plan text and that everyone will be fine with it.
This particular agreement consists of many good benefits that have been negotiated over years and years, and MBLL knows this. What they are attempting to do with this contract is not surprising and it certainly isn’t a unique strategy. Many employers negotiating with the MGEU and other unions across the country have implemented the same strategy. They call it “resetting the agreement” or “standardizing the contract” – as if to imply that good, negotiated benefits are somehow an aberration in the modern working world that no one should have. But no matter what they call it, the goal is the same: to weaken wages, benefits and working conditions – all of this on the backs of the employees.
There is no need for that. The purpose of unions has been, and always will be, about helping and rallying with other workers to improve wages, working conditions and benefits for all. We need to strive to make all contracts better, not keep removing things from each until there’s nothing left. That isn’t good for anyone.
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