As you know the collective agreement contains a provision for reviewing and potentially modifying the current benefit plan. There is a joint Benefits Review Committee (BRC) consisting of 6 members in total – 3 from the employer and 3 from the union. There is no guidance on how those individuals are selected in the collective agreement. Regardless of the number assigned to the committee from the Employer and Union, any changes must be agreed by both sides. That is, the committee doesn't function on one member, one vote but rather one vote for the employer and one for the union.
The members of the committee are: Brent Camilleri and Sandra Postnikoff for the union; Kristen Chafe and Rod Spitzig for the employer.
The BRC does NOT have the authority to change your benefits. Only you have the power to do so through your vote. Those rights are enshrined in the collective agreement and that means they are enforceable through the grievance procedure.
When the Union bargains a collective agreement that creates ad hoc committees that require union members (like the BRC), the Union retains the right to assign people to those committees. As representatives of the Union that have a mandate to represent the entire membership, committee members have significant responsibilities. Most important is that they can't be advancing their own positions on issues but representing the wishes of the broad membership collectively. The Union's general preference is to elect, but we don't always choose to do so ‑ for example, OHS reps are appointed as are many others on ad hoc committees created by collective agreements.
In some cases, your union's constitution and bylaws requires elections - bargaining committees are a good example. The constitution and bylaws are silent on ad hoc committees created under the collective agreement, and those committees' memberships are often appointed by the Union to persons that the Union believes are competent to fulfill the role of representing the membership collectively.
Originally, the bargaining committee thought we had the luxury of electing the participants of the Benefits Review Committee. That turned out not to be the case for a few reasons. The most important of these is the short time between ratification in late February and the need to make a decision quickly on the options to offer as the new price of benefits was to be (and now is) in place April 1, 2019 and has caused significant financial pressure on some of you due to the reduction in take home pay.
This short time frame has meant that we didn't have the time to upskill new members to the committee to the conversations had at bargaining on this topic and the details of the operation of benefit plans and insurance sufficient to contribute meaningfully to the options that the BRC offers for your consideration and vote. In order for the BRC to offer the possibility of discontinuing the current benefit plan by July 1, 2019 instead of August 1 or later, we need to clarify our understanding of your wishes and vote on the issue over the next couple of weeks. We understand that the increased premium cost has reduced the disposable income for many of you and that there is some urgency to providing you with options that are meaningful.
Regarding the Union's choice of membership of the BRC, the Union wanted to ensure that someone on the BRC had significant benefits experience both to ensure that meaningful options were provided to you as quickly as possible to minimize the effect of the increased premium cost on your disposable income that took effect April 1, 2019. That subject matter expert also had to know what was generally possible within benefits plans so that every opportunity to provide a plan that worked for you was taken advantage of – both on the premium paid and on the level of the benefit. The person filling this role is Brent.
The other two members would provide a link to the membership. That link was never thought to be representational – that is, a social worker representing that interest, an admin representing that interest and so on. There are too many groups to be represented in the bargaining unit for 2 representatives to hope to directly represent them all (i.e. be a member of that interest group) – non-delegated and delegated workers, workers over 65 and under 65, workers with families and not, status workers and non-status, male and female workers, status workers living on and off reserve and all the combinations of those and other interest groups.
For this reason, we knew from the start that the key to doing this successfully was to be transparent in our process and consult you, the membership, broadly and at the critical decision points as well as educating/ informing you about the issues to consider. We have been doing that to date and, as far as we know, responded to your concerns with the process when they arose. If we can improve our performance please continue to advise the Facebook group, Organizing Committee or Sandra who will ensure that we respond.
The bargaining committee, reduced to Sandra and I over time, has negotiated a complete collective agreement that was endorsed by your vote. Through that process we're familiar with the diverse interests among you and representing those interests with enough competence to ratify the collective agreement. Although the union would have preferred to hold elections for 2 of the representatives on the committee for all of the circumstances identified above, that simply wasn't possible in the circumstances, without severely compromising our ability to get the work done in the time we had with the quality you deserve.
We look forward to continuing to represent your diverse interests in the process of considering changes to the current benefit plan and providing you with meaningful information and options to choose from when the time comes. If there's a way for us to improve what we're doing, we keenly seek your feedback.
Brent Camilleri, Coordinator - Negotiations
Download PDF of notice here
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