The staff of Social Security Board countrywide who are union members engaged in a subtle protest to their management today after a proposal was made to have their benefits cut. According to our source, the proposal is to reduce the vacation and sick days for new staff members for which the Christian Workers Union, (CWU) are at odds with. According to the President for the CWU, Dale Trujeque, there has been too much time spent talking.
“We’ve been in negotiations with the SSB on a new collective agreement going on twenty months and while the discussions have been mostly cordial and amicable and the fact is that that substance of what is being negotiated we are far apart on the substance and we appear not to be moving at all and I’m new as you all are aware but you don’t have to be new or old to see that you are far apart. They have been_______ over time and a couple of them they know right away that we told them ‘no’ that our membership is not in agreement and of the way the negotiations would go is that we are not in agreement we would move on from that point because then they go back to the board but imagine you’re doing the going on twenty months you’re not going to reach an agreement and meanwhile the only thing that you agree is a 1.75 increase which is not even keeping pace with the inflation if you want to be honest.”
Trujeque says what the management of SSB is proposing entails the reduction of vacation grants among other things that the union has deemed unreasonable.
“The only thing management appears to be prepared to give workers is a 1.75% retroactive to about 2015 if I recall correctly. I have not been involved in all the negotiations I have been to like two sessions. Aside from that management’s proposal to the union that are very substantive coming from their side to cut costs or save money asks the workers to give up vacation days, in other words they want to reduce the annual vacation leave total that the employees are entitled to and they have two pairs of staff with different numbers of days they are entitled per year, management proposes to reduce those. Management proposes to scrap the vacation completely which is like a bonus get annually but only after they have been at the SSB for a number of years. That particular one they are asking for it to be eliminated completely, they want to reduce the vacation grant they want to subsume the issuances of severance under the current pension plan that the employees have. In the current situation the worker’s severance is separate and dealt with separately in the agreement persists. From pension management wants to lump it under the pensions if they do that they will be saving tons of money with just that proposal. We are talking about taking away the vacation grant, subsuming the severance under the pension, reducing the vacation benefits and along with that the contracting of a lot of workers or hiring a lot of workers all of that speaks union busting and we are at the point where we are seriously considering challenging it. If you are asking a union to accept these rights that we had fought for years ago nobody will want to join our union. Then you tell us that it will not affect the ones that are there right now but it will affect the new employees who are not covered yet well no new employee will want to join our union if we sit around a table and agree to what they are proposing right now; that is union busting and I dare anyone of them on their board to tell me that that is not what it is.”
As to the way forward, Trujeque says that while there has been no hostility in discussions had so far, he says that CWU would prefer that the matter be settled sooner rather than later.
“Well you have to start at some point to make understand that it is not only around the table that we are not in agreement. I have to say, I will give the team credit for the way the negotiations are being conducted but for me and I think they feel this from me and I may have said it to them; you think we can come to an agreement and be far apart? Because if they’re talking about cutting anything that we had agreed to and fought for for our members over the years then we are not giving our members the best representation. We run the risk of being sued by our members by not giving them the best representation. They know that once they bring something and we are not in agreement like the issue with the pension and the severance we’ve made them know not to go down there because we are not in agreement with that. They will save over a million dollars easily with just that one. I keep things simple, let’s not get to the table and jog around the issues, we agree on this and we will settle this if you don’t take it back to the board we will not take anything back to our membership because we already have our members’ final position on every issue. We will have to sit down there and fix it until we leave the room let us do that; twenty months is too long. This one is taking twenty months, the one with the Port of Belize that has been going on forever but that one we will resolve in due course. My thing is management must recognize or ought to recognize that what it is proposing is unreasonable and I am saying management but really it’s the board because they go back to the board with what our responses are and then they come back to us, we have to hold the board to what they are bringing to the table.”
Another meeting is slated to take place on April 25. Today’s protest came in the form of staff members wearing their union shirts to work countrywide.