Steelworkers attempt CLAC raid

At bus stops around town and on the industrial road leading to the Wolverine mine site, a large union with roots in Tumbler Ridge is campaigning to become the next union to represent local Western Coal employees.
“Western Coal workers contacted us; they wanted a different union,” said United Steelworkers (USW) staff representative Randy Gatzka. “They felt their voices weren’t being heard. We’re here to sign cards and give those people a voice.”
The Steelworkers are attempting to raid the Construction and Allied Workers Union local 68, commonly referred to as the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC).
CLAC’s contract with Western Coal began in August 2006, when the company was still known as Western Canadian Coal, and is set to expire on July 31 this year. B.C. Labour Board rules allow any union to attempt a raid during the seventh and eighth months of a contract year, making February and March the two-month window for the USW drive.
“Local 68 is an independent, all-Canadian union that is wholeheartedly dedicated to the best interests of our membership,” said CLAC representative Colin McComb, citing the union’s track record in negotiating wages and benefits, workplace disputes, and in supporting the community.
“We are confident that our members recognize this, and that they see through the disinformation, cheap slogans and aggressive tactics of the opposing union,” he added.
There are four USW representatives currently in Tumbler Ridge, each actively seeking signed union cards from a majority of the workers. If successful in gaining that 50 per cent-plus-one number of cards, the decision to switch unions would go to a vote amongst workers. If that passed, the USW would then have to hold membership meetings and start bargaining to get a new contract in place.
In the longer term, USW is also aiming to represent Teck employees at Quintette, should it re-open. For most of the 1980s and 1990s, the Steelworkers – then known as Steelworkers of America, local 9113 – represented employees at the Quintette operation, until the site was mothballed in 2000. Workers there originally belonged to the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), before USW raided that union. The IUOE now represents workers at Peace Rive Coal, under a contract that lasts until the end of May.
The Steelworkers already represent employees at Teck’s Fording River and Elkview coal mines in southeastern B.C., as well as at Teck’s Highland Valley copper mine near Logan Lake, and at Teck’s smelter in Trail. They also work with local unions at Teck mining operations throughout the Americas, and are members of the International Trade Union Congress.
“We work with other like-minded social justice groups around the world,” added Gatzka.
The IUOE made an unsucessful attempt to raid CLAC at this time last year, and aren’t involved in the current raid. Both unions are also interested in representing workers if Quintette re-opens.