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Business Manager / Financial Secretary Report

Jul 11, 2016

Spring 2016

Government Negotiations

Negotiations continue to progress very slowly.  Two years after the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) served notice to bargain on the Local, they are no more able to explain their proposal then they were when they served notice to bargain.  Reasonable people can disagree on whether any changes are required (and we think improvements can be made) but reasonable people would also expect the government to ``fish or cut bait’’.  These delays serve no one.

This situation poses a real problem for our members and makes the negotiating team’s work particularly difficult.  The problem for the members is that they have been without a wage increase for nearly three years.  All because the previous government launched a project doomed to failure from the beginning and current government not knowing what to do with the chaos that ensued.  You are living the ``Harper-Clement’’ legacy.

This is a very difficult situation for the negotiating team as well.  The entire team knows that some members are getting impatient.  This is completely understandable and to be expected.  However, there are no clear signals that members are ready to strike to reach a collective agreement so all the team can do is continue to meet when we think there is value in doing so. We don’t have access to binding arbitration so the outcome of this round of bargaining is squarely in the members’ hands.

It’s small consolation that our members are in the same situation as all public servants.  Not a single collective agreement has been reached this far along.  And as a result of the regressive laws passed by the previous governments, federal government employees and their unions have fewer and fewer options that do not involve a strike.  It takes two to tango and our dance partner hasn’t bothered to show up.

It might be a considered a miracle that anything gets done at the negotiating table, yet progress is being made.  Your negotiating team has been able to push back on some of the more egregious proposals initially tabled by the Treasury Board.  Many of these proposals were solutions to problems that didn’t exist.  This often happens in bargaining and I commend the employer’s representative for listening to the voice of reason.  But without a mandate to discuss anything of substance, many of your proposals remain suspended in bargaining limbo. The sick leave issue has paralyzed all senior decision makers; they don’t know what to do next.

Your negotiating team and I will soldier on as best we can.  There are always new tactics to try, different approaches to consider and other ways to get the employer’s attention.  The honest solution is for the Treasury Board to completely drop the whole sick leave issue for this round of bargaining.  The savings projected by the Conservative government were fictitious anyway and our members will continue to report to work and do their job in a very professional way.

NAV CANADA

A few weeks ago I reported that NAV CANADA members ratified a proposal to extend their contract by one year.  This allows more time to implement the pension amendments agreed to in the last round of bargaining.  Even though the Office of Superintendent of Financial Institutions has suggested they will reject the proposal, a formal filing of the plan amendment is the last step of the process.

Our NAV CANADA agreement doesn't expire until December 31st, 2017 but there are good reasons to return to the negotiating table early if the company is willing and able.  First, bargaining in the Fall of 2016 will allow me to participate in one last round of bargaining with NAV CANADA.  Leading these negotiations with the assistance of an Assistant Business Manager and a Business Representative ensures that regardless of who succeeds me, the next Business Manager will be able to draw on people with experience for future rounds of bargaining.

Another reason to return to the table early is to resolve problems that we haven't been able to resolve outside of collective bargaining. For example, our Joint Technical Committee (JTC) is struggling in that significant technological change is taking place and the union-side members of the JTC are often the last to be aware of management decisions.  These decisions have significant impact on training and competency yet we are often the last to know.

Frankly, I’m not convinced the Technical Operations leadership truly understands the purpose of the JTC.  It is not just an information delivery mechanism—we have e-mail for that.  It's a forum for conversations about technological change, how the change impacts the workforce and what it means for the future of technologists at NAV CANADA.  An unwillingness to consult on these subjects between negotiations leaves us little option but to bargain them.

A similar problem exists with our Joint Occupational Safety and Health committee. Although we have seen progress in the last year, we don’t think that the company is taking our concerns seriously.  I believe there are two reasons for this.  First, NAV CANADA’s philosophy is that the minimum standards for OSH as prescribed in Part II of the Canada Labour Code are good enough. Unfortunately this approach doesn’t contribute to an occupational safety and health culture. Here again, an ability to listen away from the bargaining table may force us to bring up these subjects during negotiations.

There are clear signs that NAV CANADA may be also be willing to bargain this fall.  I received a letter from the CEO, Mr Neil Wilson, opening the door to this possibility.  Recall the NAV CANADA Board of Directors recently approved both a temporary and permanent reduction in service charges.  This is good for the customers but the airlines are only one of the four stakeholders.  If there are opportunities for us to share in NAV CANADA’s positive financial performance, we should consider them.

Local Union Finance and Administration

The Local ended 2015 with a financial surplus.  This is largely the result of reduced activities in certain areas such as steering committee meetings and the lack of a CLC convention in 2015.  Expenses are projected to increase in 2016 with more bargaining meetings and increased number of labour board hearings.  However, none of these will greatly upset the Local’s long-term financial position.

More important than the results of any particular year are the changes being implemented in the union’s back office. Last fall the Local appointed a new Assistant Financial Secretary.  This summer we’ll be moving our accounting records online.  Doing so will give the signing officers read-only access to the unions financial records whenever they need them thus allowing the officers to generate their own reports.  This initiative follows the recent adoption of electronic banking for the payment of travel claims and other regular invoices.  Although the workflow is slightly more complicated, and payables are still done on a bi-weekly basis, electronic banking has significantly reduced the turn-around time for payment of invoices and claims.

The vast majority of members won’t notice any difference but office administration, like any piece of complex machinery, requires periodic maintenance and upgrading.  Every member notices when the machine breaks.

Convention Election

This year marks the 125th anniversary of the IBEW.  It also happens to be a Convention year.  To commemorate this coincidence, the Convention will be held in the IBEW’s birthplace: St. Louis, Missouri.  At the time of writing, the process is underway to elect six delegates in addition to the Business Manager.  The results will be posted on the Local’s website on June 1st. Good luck to all the candidates!

International Affairs

The Local continues to be heavily involved in the International Federation of Air Traffic Safety Electronics Associations (www.ifatsea.org) and the International Transport Workers Federation (www.itfglobal.org).  International coordination among air traffic safety electronics personnel (ATSEP) is more important than ever.  Twenty-five years ago we learned of a world-wide trend where nations were privatizing their air navigation systems.  Canada did just that in 1996. Managing an air navigation system is now a global business.  Consider the irony of Germany’s Deutsche Flugsicherung (DFS) beating their British counterpart NATS in a bid to run air traffic services at London’s Gatwick airport.  I’m convinced this is only the beginning.  One can easily foresee a world where ANSPs contract out these services regularly.  Employees could be crossing borders like the aviation traffic itself.  What this means is that international standards for competency (and licensing) will become more important than ever and this is where the IBEW and IFATSEA are playing a lead role developing training programs with ICAO.

In parallel with these trends are significant advancements in air traffic control technology.  In February I attend a conference on ``remote towers’’.  We heard presentations from two leading suppliers of this technology: Saab SENSIS and Searidge Technologies.  These competing technologies are relying on high-speed data networks and high resolution cameras to simulate a control tower environment. This is another example of disruptive technology in that airport operators requiring control towers now have an alternative to the traditional bricks and mortar installations.  There are already examples of this technology in use in Europe.

Business Office Compensation

At this Executive Board meeting I will be tabling a report on Business Manager (BM) and Assistant Business Manager (ABM) compensation.  My research confirms what I suspected for a while: Local 2228 no longer offers competitive wages when compared to our highest paid members.  This wasn’t always the case but the averaging formula adopted in 1997 following the creation of NAV CANADA, coupled with significant increases and premiums paid to our NAV CANADA members, has put the BM and ABM compensation out of step with this group.  As an example, the base pay (excluding overtime and premiums) of a senior technologist at NAV CANADA (ANS-TEC-3) now exceeds the total pay of an ABM or Business Representative (who are not eligible to earn overtime). Moreover, it is estimated that nearly 50% of the members at NAV CANADA (ANS-TEC-1 and above) are earning more than an ABM or Business Representative when factoring in premiums and overtime.  In short, a review and adjustment is in order.

Like any employer, your union must compete for talented and driven individuals willing to work on your behalf.  Full-time representatives are agreeing to take on difficult work, without access to premiums such as overtime, resolving workplace conflicts and generally serving your needs.  It’s not a 9-5 job—it’s a 24/7 preoccupation.   Finding qualified individuals willing to take on this work is never easy, but when employers are offering nearly the same pay with more stable hours of work, as well as opportunities to earn overtime, competency premiums and standby premiums to name a few, it becomes even more difficult to find high-quality full-time union representatives.  And for those in highly specialized and technical jobs such as the members of our union, it presents a particular problem because the Local (the members) are asking these individuals to put their technical careers on hold.  Not everyone is willing to do this.  The pool of potential candidates is already limited. Our compensation policies shouldn’t reduce it further.

Fortunately, we have a narrow window of opportunity to make the decision without any real or perceived conflict of interest for those who could benefit from the change.  The increase would only take effect in July 2017 (after the next Local Union elections) and I have already announced my intention to retire at the end of my current mandate.  It puts me in a unique position to provide research, information and independent advice to the Executive Board.   My goal is to have the new bylaws in place by the end of this calendar year so that the compensation issue is settled before the Call for Nominations in March 2017.

A complete information package explaining the history of our compensation formula, the benchmarks used to determine the new formula, as well as the specific motion to be voted on will be distributed in due course.  There will be a lot of information to digest but members will be given the opportunity to have a full debate at their unit meetings.

I know this subject comes at a difficult time for members who are struggling to reach an agreement with the government.  But the problem described above transcends any particular employer or collective agreement.  This decision is not about the immediate problems faced by a particular group of members, it’s about giving your union the resources it needs to hire (and elect) the best possible representatives for the next twenty years and beyond.

All of which is respectfully submitted,

Daniel J Boulet