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January 2009
Published: January 30, 2009

I want to say it has been an honor and a privilege to have been elected and to serve three terms as President of the Mine Mill Union, Local 598 of the Canadian Auto Workers.  On March 1st 2001, after the long and bitter seven months as strike co-coordinator for the Falconbridge strike, I assumed the President’s position from the retiring Rolly Gauthier.  The membership gave me their support in elections in 2001, 2003 and 2006 and I thank you for that. I hope I have been worthy of your trust in serving our Union.  With the reduction of the workforce at Xstrata Nickel (they bought Falconbridge 2006), an early retirement offer has been made to reduce the layoff of junior workers and I will be retiring February 1st, 2009.

Your elected Vice-President, Dwight Harper, will become President until the spring election of 2009. Dwight has been at the Hall preparing for the transition that is to occur.  Dwight has been our leading Full Time H&S Officer at Xstrata Nickel for eight years and has trained many H&S reps in our Local and other work areas through the Health and Safety Center. Union reps Richard Paquin and Wayne Nitchie, along with our two experienced secretaries, Marianne and Noella, and with our strong Union leadership in all our workplaces, will make the changeover a success.  Tom Dattilo, our CAW National Staff Representative, will also continue to give excellent support to our Executive.  Bert Purcell, our Retirees Representative on the Executive Board is truly a friend of our Local and will continue to support our new President as he has supported me since 2000.

Over these last eight years, we have seen many changes, with a growing number of Sudbury and District workers joining CAW. We now represent 16 work places and 1,800 active and laid-off workers in health care, manufacturing, hospitality, office workers and mining. We also represent over 1,600 retirees and 600 surviving spouses.

Volunteers

When workers volunteer to take on the positions in the Union either as Stewards, H&S reps or other committees, it is on a volunteer basis and with the intent to serve the workplace collective agreement or the Occupational Health and Safety Act.  Many co-workers benefit from their efforts, but some fail to understand their value.

In my 26 years as a Union rep starting in 1973 as a Steward, I have learned and grown from my efforts, mistakes and successes in representing my workplace as a Steward and H&S rep. My 17 years as an Executive Board member goes back to 1982.  I have been Trustee, Financial Secretary, Vice-President, and then President. The Union owes me nothing for my time, but I owe our Union so much, for gaining me wages, benefits and the pension I am about to take.  It gave me opportunities to learn, to defend the rights of our collective agreement, the H&S Act and Human Rights in the workplace.

The world has changed so much in 36 years and my workplace too has evolved.  It just did not happen; it changed because workers spoke up and stood together and fought for the rights that now exist in the collective agreement and the Occupational Health and Safety Act. This just did not happen; it took time and effort to make the change.  The betterment of your workplace and your community has been because of our Canadian right to have a union, to speak out without fear of being fired or if you lived in places like Columbia, the fear of being shot.

Over the years, many people have stood up to hold workplace representation positions, many for a short time because they fell to the pressure from the demand of serving others. That is what a union position is for, serving the membership. Others have stood the test of time and represented their workplace until they retire. They deserve the workplace’s respect for their time and effort. All in all, every fight was not won, every grievance was not a success and every workplace injury has not been learned from. We have not yet reached the point in our workplace or society where we can say if is safe and secure. I would like to thank all the representatives in all our workplaces for making the effort to build a better workplace, union and community.

The Big Picture

The mismanagement and manipulating of the world’s financial economy has stolen life savings and darkened the lives of the majority of our people.  Our pensioners and seniors will not have time to allow their savings to recover and will spend the rest of their lives feeling the theft from their savings. With so much money going to the oil and financial economic profits, the people’s economy, you and I who work, who spend and keep the real economy going will suffer.  Layoffs, closures and turmoil will follow us for a year or two and our communities will bear the blunt of the recession.  Small “Mom and Pop” stores and local manufacturing will feel the loss of the workers income, but large financial and mega corporations in energy will still rack up profits because our system lacks regulations and control. 

The speculator and manipulators will keep on fudging the markets and gain wealth at the expense of our communities and societies.

The Small Picture

Each of us work at making a living and hope those in charge do the right things. Sometimes mistakes are made and one that I have to explain to my Xstrata Nickel Brothers who are retiring is about the $15 extra for each year over thirty years of service.  In 2004, we felt we had bargained three years at $15 a year for a maximum of $45 and that money was to be on the basic for life.  After I reported that at the ratification meeting in 2004, there was some correspondence between the Union and company and it resulted in that there was no cap at three years.

I believed it was still on the basic for life, up until I reviewed my retirement offer papers in November. In review of what happened after the 2004 ratification meeting, it stands that the cap is open on all years past 30 and paid only until 65 (INCO capped at three years - $45 until 65).

The United Way

The economic system has been hard hit and the community support system needs all the help it can get. I have been a supporter of the United Way for over 25 years. I feel privileged to have been employed by Falconbridge/Xstrata Nickel for 36 years and thank those before me who started the defined pension plan in 1970.  I never had any problems working for this mining company because with my father before me, it has been putting bread and butter on the table since 1952.  Now I have had a lot of problems with the managers and HR in that time, especially around Health and Safety and collective agreement issues.  Our Xstrata Nickel wages and benefits are near the top of the class, most likely in the top 10% of workers in Canada, and higher world wide. Even in these uncertain times, I know we are better off than most and that is why I always support my community, especially the United Way.

For those retiring with this extra VERI offer, I hope you have shared our good fortune and made a contribution to support our suffering community.  To those left on the job, a little from all will go a long way in helping our community. Sharing and supporting each other has stood the test of time and is the good neighbor’s quality of the Northern mining communities.

All in all, I must say the last 8 ½ years, even with strikes and company changes has been a wonderful time and learning experience for myself and I look forward to be with our four grandchildren who have come into our family during that time, and with the hope and knowledge that the world is awaking to the pollution problem and in hope that from the terrible mismanagement of the governments and economy, people will stand up and make a change that a social democratic society needs to protect and develop our children, grandchildren and all future generations that follow.

I look forward to joining our Retirees Chapter and volunteering for my daughters projects, which they are involved in.  There is that “honey do” list and the change of life into retirement. I wish you all the best in your family and work lives.

The world is changing and you see it every day, from the strength of Nickel Rim South for Xstrata Nickel and getting past this downturn, the pressures in health care to do extra on less and manufacturing jobs disappearing, to the uncertainty of our governments and failed systems.

I would like to start my retirement and end my active Union career with acknowledgment to a man, a Canadian who worked endlessly in private and political life to improve the lives of every Canadian.

Tommy Douglas, founder and developer of Canada’s Universal Health Care System is recognized for his legacy for a better world and his efforts over many years to our health care system.

One only has to reflect on the words of the successor to the greatest Canadian award “Courage my friends, “tis not too late to build a better world.”

 

On behalf of the membership
Rick Grylls.  
              

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