Abitibi, union before labour board today

Abitibi-Consolidated Inc. and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada were set to go before the Ontario Labour Relations Board in Toronto this morning after the company filed a complaint Friday that the union was bargaining in bad faith.
Arguing the union couldn’t strike over “process,” the company has filed a similar complaint in Newfoundland.
The hearing is expected to last three days.
Sources say if the union is found to have bargained in bad faith, the board can order the two sides back to the negotiating table. But it doesn’t necessarily mean an end to the strike, which began Monday morning at Abitibi’s 11 mills in Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland.
If the board finds the union was bargaining in good faith, as set out by Section 17 of the Labour Relations Act, it will be up to the two sides to come to the table on their own.
But Cecil Makowski, Ontario administrative vice-president with the CEP, said the union was prepared to defend itself, and charged it was the company bargaining in bad faith.
He noted Abitibi agreed to bargain about 60 percent of the issues at the central table but then withdrew the proposal entirely when the union gave it a thumbs-down Friday.
“That is bargaining in bad faith and it is completely unprecedented,” Makowski charged yesterday.
CEP Local #92 president Mike Drazenovich said Monday the union opposed the proposal because it wasn’t going to let the company dictate their agenda for them.
“We’re not going to allow the company to pick us apart,” he stressed.
About 450 mill workers with the two CEP locals here walked off the job Monday morning after the two sides failed to agree on how they would negotiate a new contract.
The company wants to negotiate on a mill-by-mill basis while the union wants to do so as one.
Both mill manager Jim Gartshore and Drazenovich agreed Monday things were quiet on the 24-hour picket lines here. But Makowski said there had been some minor occurrences at some other mills where striking workers “delayed” management from getting inside.
Gartshore noted about 180 salaried personnel are continuing to work here, adding other union members in the mill–the International Association of Machinists and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers–would receive layoff notices shortly.
But Makowski warned it will be “full-scale war” if they company tried to run the mills.
While it is monitoring the situation, the OPP said it isn’t expecting any problems to arise from the strike.
“Not at all,” S/Sgt. Hugh Dennis said Monday, noting they’d already been in touch with the company, security guards, and the union.
“The lines of communication are open and are excellent,” he noted, adding he expected them to stay that way. “It’s not a police matter unless the law is broken.”
Meanwhile, the two sides haven’t started negotiating yet and Makowski said no talks were slated. He couldn’t predict how long the strike would last but noted strikes in the paper industry traditionally were longer than in others.
The union claimed the company’s inventory would last 40-60 days.
“Until those inventories are worn down a bit, we won’t see any movement,” Makowski said.
Striking workers will not receive payment from the union until day 15 of the strike, when each will receive $150. Then starting on day 22, each will receive $400 a week ($200 from their own union and $200 from other unions in the industry).
The union is looking for an improved pension plan, along with a $1.50 an hour wage increase each year for the next three years.
These negotiations will set the pattern for all other contracts in the industry.