From past to future

My birthday is in a couple of weeks and because we were travelling by train to Montréal for a couple of days, my wife gave me my gift a little early. I am very touched by the 50th anniversary CBRT&GW wallet, with a name card inside. Here it is, pictured, with my Unifor pin and membership card. Plus the wallet is made in Canada!

Le plus ça change…

What is a Regional Representative?

One of the questions I’ve been hearing a lot lately is, “what does the Regional Representative do?” The answer is pretty complicated, so I decided to write this synopsis for those members who may not know what the job is all about.

The Regional Representative is responsible for Step 3 grievances: the final step of the grievance procedure before the case could be referred to arbitration. This step is addressed to VIA Rail’s Labour Relations department, and is our last opportunity to make our case to the Corporation. Accordingly, we need someone with a clear understanding of the circumstances pertinent to any given case, as well as the specific legal and labour relations climate surrounding the case. This includes someone with good language skills and the ability to make sound judgements based on fact, not emotion.

Similarly, the Regional Representative is charged with preparing briefs for mediated arbitration and arbitration. This includes compiling the grievances made at each step of the procedure, in addition to writing several pages regarding the relative merits of the case. This presentation is our opportunity to refute the employer’s arguments and strengthen our own, based on the actual or anticipated positions taken by the opposing side. The Regional Representative then argues the case before an arbitrator: this aspect of the job requires the successful incumbent to be able to think quickly on his or her feet and rebut any arguments the employer presents that may not have been part of their responses to our grievances. Frequently, VIA does not respond at Step 3, choosing to keep their arguments for arbitration: therefore, the ability to do broad-based research of past arbitration cases, federal court decisions, etc. in preparation for the arbitration process is very important.

Regional Representatives are also tasked with representing members before the CSST (Québec) and WSIB (Ontario). Therefore, the Regional Representative needs a good understanding of the relevant legislation and procedures of these two bodies in order to protect the membership he or she serves.

The Regional Representative serves as a resource for other Union representatives, and therefore must have a firm grasp on a wide variety of labour relations issues. He or she must understand how a particular case relates to the history of our Union, past decisions by arbitrators and courts, other active grievances, and many other things. For this reason, a Regional Representative needs to be able to focus on the details of a given case while keeping a constant eye on the big picture, fitting the issue at hand into the broader context. He or she must act as a leader, with a solid understanding of the hurdles we may face in advancing a case; while simultaneously exercising patience, understanding and encouragement to the other representatives and members he or she comes into contact with.

Finally, the Regional Representative is responsible for representing his or her constituent members at the bargaining table. The position requires the ability to listen well, understand what the needs of the membership are during this period, and to take those priorities with him or her to the bargaining table. This involves highly developed communication skills and the ability to synthesize information without one’s own bias interfering in the process. More than communication with members, however, the Regional Representative needs to be able to effectively communicate the membership’s demands to the employer. This takes a talent for nuance and the ability to find the appropriate moment to insert those demands into the bargaining process. Because we negotiate for all VIA bargaining units simultaneously, the Regional Representative also needs to be able to work as a member of a team consisting of the other Regional Representatives, the Secretary-Treasurer, Staff Representatives, etc., and to ensure the demands he or she is bringing to the table are consistent with those of the other regions. This is a bit of a balancing act, but it can be done with perseverance, intellect and the sincere desire to make positive change in our workplaces.

I believe I possess all of these skills in abundance, and am excited to put them to good use serving our members. I hope you will agree with me and lend me your support during this election and over the next three years. Thank you!