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Lethbridge Herald Newspaper Archives

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Lethbridge Herald, The (Newspaper) - March 1, 1975, Lethbridge, Alberta Company offers hike workers want Strike seeds sown by growing 'Pass wage scales COLEMAN After 10 years of amicable relations with workers at Phillips Cables plant at Sentinel, two miles west of here, the peace is broken. But the mood is not one of hostility or bitterness, despite statements by both management and labor that they won't budge from final offers made Tuesday when contract talks broke off. As the strike by 188 plant workers, members of Local 2 Canadian Association of Industrial, Mechanical and Allied Workers enters its third day today, no negotiations are scheduled. From all indications, the strike will outlast a perfunctory strike in Feb. 1971, when Phillips workers were off the job only three days before an accord was reached. The position of both management and labor in the current strike points up a basic problem in (he 'Pass, for many years a depressed area with few employment oppor- tunities. Explains Blairmore Manpower clerk Janice Wilkie: "Ten years ago, Phillips was the place where everyone wanted to get on." But that was in 1965, when Phillips received federal assistance to build its plant in a depressed area. That was 1965, before the coal industry revived and Coleman Collieries and Kaiser Resources brightened a bleak employment picture. The base rate for laborers at Coleman Collieries, she'adds, is J5.70 an hour. The base rate at Phillips is with most workers earning hourly. Second Section The Lethbrldge Herald Lethbridge, Alberta, Saturday, March 1, 1975 Pages 13-20 Coal wages upped industrial ante Wages earned by coal miners have given workers in the Crowsnest Pass new wage ex- pectations. For most people, the manpower clerk says, "anything below four dollars an hour isn't worth working for." The resurgence of the coal industry has changed 'Pass wages, says Fern Paquette, Phillips Cables' negotiator in the current dis- pute. Mr. Paquette, plant manager at Sentinel until his transfer late last year to Phillips cable plant at Portage la Prairie, Man., says Kaiser and Coleman Collieries "put pressure on everybody else" to pay higher wages "We can't compete as far as wages he admits, "but you can't compare the working conditions either." In return for lower pay than coal miners, cable plant workers enjoy steady employment without the threat of someday being laid off. "The plant was built in 1965 for 50 workers. Since then we have had three major plant ex- pansions, and employed up to 263 people at one time." The only major layoff in the plant's history, he says, came "last year at the end of February when we laid off 29 people. "Within 45 days all those employees were recalled." Dispute centres over paychecks For the harried company negotiator who asked, "You want my job" wages form the main hurdle separating both sides from an agreement to replace a two year contract which expired Feb. 13. The company is offer- ing workers an hourly wage hike of over 18 months. The union is asking for in a one year accord. conflict is says Mr. Pa- quette with finality. His analysis is shared by union fieldworker Cathy Walker of Vancouver, where CAIMAW's first local represents 250 produc- tion workers in Phillips' West Coast plant. "When Phillips built this she says, "the 'Pass was a so called depressed area. "Now the cost of labor is going up and the company doesn't like it." Once cheap housing has followed climbing mining wages and "housing costs have gone up astronomically It's hard on the young people who are just starting out." The two year contract struck in 1971, she adds, "pretty well gave us parity with the mines It was a good agreement, but it isn't enough now." She concedes that company union relations have been good over the last 10 years. "Phillips is no Cominco or Ms. Walker says. But, she warns, Phillips has taken a hard line stance with striking unions at other plants in Canada. "Unfortunately, the three day strike here in 1971 was the only short strike in Phillips' history." 'PASS WORKERS VOW: 'WE DON'T GIVE IN' Stories byRVSSELL OUGHTRED Photos by BILL GROENEN Herald Staff Members You can't see Phillips Cables factory from the camperized bus parked beside Highway 3 two miles west of Coleman. The cable plant being picketed by 188 produc- tion workers may be out of sight, but it's not out of the minds of strikers gathering in the wood heated bus to warm up, play cards and, of course, talk about the strike. As he sits in the bus; owned by striker Jack Otis of Coleman, a determined John Hermens gestures to fellow picketers and says: "People here don't give in." By John means the Crowsnest Pass, where workers have seen good times and hard times. The 'Pass: where workers have seen jobs come and go and employers boc.n and bust. John is one of 30 or 40 'Pass residents who went to work for the cable plant when it opened its doors in the mid '60s. Now a cable tester at Sentinel, the 54 year old veteran of coal mines in Holland and Canada says Phillips Cables' workers are determined in their bid for parity with other workers in the 'Pass. "But don't get me cautions the former coal miner as he looks at the cribbage board and cards on a table in the old bus: "I like my work and I like the area. I want to work here. "Nobody wants to go out on strike, but we want to have a decent living, too. "So what do you UNIONIST CATHY WALKER IS CONCERNED WITH WAGES V ir 5-. i PICKETS ESTABLISHED LINE ON ROAD TO PHILLIPS' SENTJNEL PLANT, CLAIM HIGH MORALE ;