A workplace closure or downsizing is always devastating. Trade unions have always been about protecting workers from displacement in this irrational capitalist system. It is natural that we use our bargaining strength to prepare for workplace closures.
Some might ask, “Why buy an umbrella when the sun is shining?” The answer is simple: “It’s cheaper, and you can get a better umbrella — and it’s there when you need it.”
While we always have some room to bargain when a closure is announced (even to the point of workplace occupations, such as at Volvo or Molson’s), there is clearly a need to plan ahead. When a closure is announced, there is no way of knowing in advance if we, as a union, will have any bargaining power whatsoever.
Closure language covers four broad areas:
2) technical issues,
3) income, and
The issue of notice is our first priority. Getting the maximum up-front warning is critical to being able to effectively deal with the situation.
And, if the company wants to close before the end of the notice period, that can sometimes translate into money, or “pay in lieu” of notice. In a broader sense, more time also allows us to focus on other issues, including solutions that may even keep the workplace open.
Second, a whole host of issues might be better dealt with ahead of time, such as:
- company maintenance of employee records;
- extended recall rights;
- bargaining rights if the workplace reopens;
- outstanding wages and vacation pay;
- status of workers on disability and compensation; and
- grievances in the system.
Third, negotiating a good severance package is key to lessening the impact. But keep in mind that severance and other termination pay will delay EI payments. Include other items such as the continuation of health and insurance benefits. And, while laws protecting pension plans remain in place, enhancing early retirement options is a top priority.
Finally, there is the need to think about adjustment. An Adjustment Committee can make all the difference in how people deal with the closure, their ability to find new work, upgrade skills, cope with the stress, make important financial decisions, or deal with EI claims. And it also means they don’t have to face this alone.
Government assistance for adjustment programs used to be stronger and more readily available. So putting in place the foundation for an Adjustment Committee is more important than ever, including release time for needs assessment, training for the Committee, office space and equipment for an Action Centre, basic skills upgrading, and a Training Trust Fund.