It’s common knowledge in our workplace that in some limited situations, it is necessary to use contractors to perform some bargaining unit job duties. Most of us are familiar with work being contracted out, but how many have heard of contracting in? This article will bring to your attention a different way in which contractors can be used, and how it is happening in our work place.
Both contracting out and contracting in fall under the category of outsourcing, which refers to an agreement in which one company hires another company to be responsible for planned or existing activity that could be done internally. Contractors are a part of the workforce at our refinery and have been for a long time, but that has historically been in the context of contracting out. When work is contracted out, a specific job or set of tasks is handed wholly to an outside group (contractor) to be completed by their workers, under their management, using their tools and equipment.
However, more recently we have seen the Company shift to include contracting in as a way to avoid increasing the complement of the Maintenance Department, which is critically understaffed. This involves a contractor worker being “embedded” within a shop; effectively doing bargaining unit work alongside bargaining unit members, under the same supervision, using the same tools and equipment but not paying union dues to our local.
Legally, outsourcing in all regards is allowed except where there is specific language prohibiting it in the CBA. Taking a look at our current collective agreement, Article 2, section 3:
“The Cooperative retains the right to contract work with outside persons or firms. It is understood that such right will not be used to displace any employees currently employed in classifications covered by this Agreement. It is agreed that performance of work for the Company by contractors will not cause the layoff of any employee in the bargaining unit. No work customarily performed by an employee covered by this Agreement shall be performed by another employee of the Cooperative or by a contractor, except as provided herein..” (emphasis added)
This is reiterated in LOU 58, “Contract Work.” So, under our collective agreement, contracting out of running maintenance duties can occur when one or more of three conditions have been met:
· Lack of sufficient manpower, or
· Lack of sufficient equipment, or
· Lack of training to safely and efficiently perform the required task.
In these circumstances, and only these circumstances, can running maintenance activities be contracted out. Our collective agreement does not contain any provisions that allow contracting in.
The problem that is evident in several maintenance shops is that even though current employees are not technically being displaced, positions that were vacated through attrition (ie: retirements, internal movement, etc.) are not being replaced with bargaining unit members and shop complement is dwindling while maintenance work is increasing.
Instead, we are seeing contractors hired to fill those positions and complete that work, supposedly on a temporary basis. The Company appears to be signaling that this trend will continue which is not helpful to labour relations when Unifor 594 has a collective agreement in place to be the sole provider of labour to the Co-op Refinery.
We are actively pursuing grievances to eliminate contracting in on site as that is our typical dispute resolution process. In the meantime, we are constantly raising the staffing issue with all levels of management. Our members have worked thousands of hours of overtime and the need for a skilled-trades hiring blitz is very apparent. We’re better off as an organization with 594 on the front lines. We put the care in career.
Sheena Rivett & Richard Exner