Kootenay Savings workers vote to strike

Workers at Kootenay Savings Credit Union have voted to strike after a year-long grievance finally came to a head.

  • Jan. 20, 2011 4:00 p.m.

Workers at Kootenay Savings Credit Union have voted to strike after a year-long grievance finally came to a head.

Ninety-three per cent of the unionized workers of United Steelworkers Locals 9705 and 1-405 supported the strike, with 82 per cent of the 150 credit union employees turning out for the vote last week.

The main issue deals with cuts to the pension plan made over a year ago, said union president Chuck Macklon.

“On January 1, 2010, the pension trustees made significant changes to the pension plan and the union believes the company must compensate our members equitably,” he said.

Discussions over the pension plan cuts have dragged on all year and since the collective agreement expired December 31, current negotiations have sought unsuccessfully to address the cuts.

Kootenay Savings is one of 25 credit unions part of the B.C. Credit Union Employees Pension Plan, which is governed by a board of trustees.

“There were, in fact, changes made to it, and we sympathize with the union around those changes,” said credit union president and CEO Brent Tremblay. “However having said that, we have absolutely no control over the changes that were made.”

The president would like to see the matter dealt with during contract negotiations but not at any cost.

“We are not going to put this organization at jeopardy to meet financial demands that simply can’t be met.”

The union made a proposal to the credit union that would make up for the pension shortfall, says Macklon. According to the union president, the contract is clear on that matter.

“The employer agrees to maintain for the duration of the agreement, the pension currently in effect or its equivalent.”

A provincial arbitrator will join the fray on February 3 and 4 and interpret the language of the contract, deciding whether Kootenay Savings is responsible for changes made to the pension plan by the trustees last year.

The decision is binding but does not rule out strike action, says Macklon.

“It is the trustees that made the changes to the plan but it is the credit union that has the contract with us.”

In 2009, Kootenay Savings Credit Union paid out $4.6 million in 10 per cent profit-sharing dividends to members. The credit union has over $835 million in assets, employs over 270 residents and has 41,000 members.

The nine credit union branches affected are Kaslo, Salmo, South Slocan, Warfield, Trail, Waneta Plaza, Fruitvale, Castlegar, and Kimberley. In its 42-year history, Kootenay Savings Credit Union has never gone on strike.

Employees at Nelson and District Credit Union went on strike last year for the first time. The walkout began in February and lasted a month and a half.