ANTIGONISH: Unifor members at three local East Coast Credit Union (ECCU) branches escaped a strike deadline after voting 97 per cent to ratify a new collective agreement on August 13.

“I am so proud of the bargaining committee for their strength and solidarity to stand up for members’ pension benefits that were gained over many years at the bargaining table,” said Lana Payne, Unifor Atlantic Regional Director.

Unifor Local 2107 which represents 44 full and part time employees, mostly women, in Antigonish, New Glasgow and St. Andrews, were inside a 48-hour window of a looming strike deadline.

Jeanne Doiron, Unifor 2107 Unit Chair said the union’s solidarity, strength and support were absolutely vital to getting the changes they were seeking.

“Our members were so strong through this whole process, we were 48-hours away from a strike deadline, and these members were talking about it like ‘we’re going on strike, we’re protecting our pension plan, we have no choice, we have to stand up.’”

Those were the type of comments ringing through the workplace because the members knew how strong they had to be in order to protect their pension benefits, Doiron said.

“I’m extremely proud of our members, we could not have done this. The bargaining committee could not have been so successful without the strength and solidarity of our members. Without that strength, we have nothing,” she said. “Our members put their trust in us to get them the best possible agreement, which we feel we’ve done, and the main issue being to protect that pension plan, which I’m extremely proud about.”

Prior to the ratification, the union had a 98 per cent strike vote, with the issue at hand relating to the current defined benefit pension plan and the mandate of the employer to close it.

“Obviously through these negotiations, the pension plans have been our No. 1 priority, everybody wants to retire with a pension,” Doiron said. “That was our No. 1 issue from our members even prior to going into negotiations to get a new agreement, was to protect their pension.”

The new five-year collective agreement maintains the Defined Benefit Pension Plan for all current employees at ECCU, and for those members not yet eligible to join the plan. New employees with enter into a Defined Contribution Pension Plan with matching contributions.

“That was first and foremost, there was nothing going to get done without that pension issue being rectified and certainly we were not interested in winding it up or closing it down by any means,” Doiron said.

For Unifor Local 2107, this round of negotiations had been completely different from any negotiations in the past, under their Bergengren Credit Union name.

“This was our first contract negotiations with the new amalgamated Credit Union, which may have made it more difficult because East Coast Credit Union is much larger and there are only three branches that are unionized,” Doiron said.

The agreement also includes a two per cent yearly wage increase, job security language, a commitment to review certain classifications, and pay grade adjustments for one classification.

Doiron said the employer will maintain a certain number of full-time employees within the bargaining unit.

“So basically, there will be no shrinkage in the five-years on the full-time scale.”

ECCU has also agreed to create a women’s advocate position in the workplace. Unifor has bargained women’s advocates in more than 350 workplaces across Canada. These specially trained workplace representatives assist women with issues including workplace harassment and intimate partner violence and abuse.

“It’s a critical role, in a predominantly women workforce, which we currently are in. It’s just a safe, confidential person that female members can go to, with any women related issues, such as domestic violence,” Doiron said. “It’s another woman who can actually relate to their concerns, and can guide them and kind of hold their hand and get them through a really difficult situation.”