Kimber's Nova Scotia (April 15, 2007)

Workers counting on union to deflate Michelin

Emplyoees put out call for CAW after company decides to slash pay for new workers by $3 an hour


The Daily News

Editor’s note: Beginning today, veteran journalist, author and King’s College professor Stephen Kimber gives his unique perspective on news events from around the province every Sunday.

Operator, get me the CAW…

One of Nova Scotia’s largest employers is slashing the rate it pays new employees by $3 an hour, and threatening to cut wages for existing workers who switch to lower-wage-rate jobs within the company.

Michelin, which employs 3,500 at plants in Bridgewater, Granton and Waterville, says it decided to implement the changes after reviewing the province’s "market-based pay structure."

But one unidentified veteran Granton employee – who told the New Glasgow Evening News workers there are "stunned and flabbergasted" – says "the company’s doing this because they think they know a union won’t come here, and they can get away with it."

The giant French tiremaker is almost as well known for its anti-union attitudes as for the quality of its tires.

Since setting up shop in Nova Scotia in the 1970s, Michelin has survived numerous union organizing drives, occasionally with the help of pliant provincial governments. Both Liberal and Conservative administrations have introduced "Michelin bills" specifically to make it more difficult for unions to organize the company’s workers.

The Granton worker told the paper some disgruntled employees recently phoned Canadian Auto Workers’ headquarters to see if it would consider another membership drive here.

There’s no word on whether the CAW, which has been burned in past efforts at Michelin, will answer that call.

What if they passed a law… then changed their mind

When the MacDonald government brought in new rules last year to force all ATV drivers to take safety training courses, Howard Rhyno and Ralph Winchester saw it as a golden business opportunity.

The Yarmouth ATV enthusiasts invested close to $20,000 to set up an ATV rider safety training program. And why not? With more than 250 members in their own club and lots of non-member ATV enthusiasts in the area, they did some calculating. If they charged $85 dollars for adult courses and $50 for kids, they could make…

Not so fast.

Last month, the province, under pressure from other ATV owners, suddenly loosened the rules. Now only new drivers and kids will have be trained.

Meaning, says Rhyno, they’ll have to at least quadruple their fees to survive.

As an ATVer, he concedes he’s happy the government’s backing off regulating the industry, but as a businessman, well, he’s not amused.

"By year’s end," he notes, "we should have started making money."

A ‘weekend of hell’

Rick Allen of Westfield in Queen’s County wasn’t the only Nova Scotia parent of soldiers in Afghanistan who greeted last weekend’s news that six more Canadian soldiers had been killed there with a complex mix of fear, relief, sadness and guilt.

His 22-year-old son Kyle is a LAV-3 gunner with the Canadian forces in Kandahar. Though Cpl. Allen has only been in Afghanistan for 10 weeks, he’d already been near where one suicide bombing occurred.

And his father knew Kyle, a member of the same company as those killed this time, was deployed in the area of this latest bombing.

So when Kyle didn’t phone home as expected Easter weekend, his anxious parents immediately called a military support line. They discovered, to their relief, that he was not among the casualties.

"I feel guilty about this," his father told the Advance. "Because it wasn’t him, great… But here you’ve got six other families that are going through pure torture."

Kyle finally managed to contact his family at 11 p.m. that night. He was standing, he explained, just 200 metres from the accident site.

He and his fellow soldiers were taking turns calling their families to let them know they were OK.

"This weekend has been a weekend of hell for his mom and I," Rick Allen told the newspaper.

Next time, go for eight minutes

Cape Breton municipal councillors say they’re trying to "do the right thing" after embarrassing disclosures last month that one of their number collected a "local" travel allowance while working in the Alberta oil sands and another pocketed more than $8,000 worth of taxpayers’ money to take courses in (what else?) public administration at Dalhousie University.

The municipality’s audit committee is asking staff to develop a training program to help councillors make sense of the huge number of huge – and not so huge – numbers tossed around chambers during audit sessions and budget deliberations.

Cape Breton University political science professor Tom Urbaniak, who concedes the audit committee hasn’t provided much financial scrutiny in the past, is hopeful things may be changing. "Even at this meeting we saw a report on capital borrowing," he notes, adding, "and we saw a four-minute debate on that."

Perhaps they could use an auditor, too

The Cape Breton District Health Authority spent $1 million in overtime costs for emergency room care last year – and is on target to spend at least as much again this year. That’s double the budgeted amount.

CEO John Malcolm blames a lack of available beds in other hospital units as well as a shortage of nursing home spaces for many of the problems.

While waiting for the province to provide a promised 64 more local long-term care spaces, he says he’s trying innovative ways to get people out of the hospital faster, including releasing patients in the

morning instead of later in the day. "It’ll be like a hotel in that regard," Malcolm told the Post.

Uh, OK.

"We know we’re not finished," he added.


Look Martha, the inside of a tunnel’

Mulgrave town councillors say bad weather forces officials to close the Canso Causeway way too often – three times in one recent two-week period, in fact. Since they can’t do anything about the weather, councillors want to change the causeway.

Deputy Mayor George Freer says the long-term solution to the problem is to build another bridge between Cape Breton and the mainland, or at least cover the existing crossing.

Freer has been touting a covered causeway idea since 1988.

"You can twin all the highways you want," he says, "but when you get to Cape Breton, there’s a bottleneck."

Not everyone thought Freer’s idea was a good one, however. A reporter from the Guysborough Journal heard one spectator at the meeting grumble aloud that a covered causeway would be "pretty scenic, eh? A goddamn tunnel!"

It’s all a matter of scale

If you think overheated condo markets and controversies over surveillance cameras are solely urban issues, think again.

Earlier this month, Liverpool town council debated a motion to install security cameras in its downtown area.

While conceding the town does have a vandalism problem, Mayor John Leefe argued cameras don’t work.

He favours the kinder, gentler approach of educating miscreants, or – if sweet reason fails – encouraging witnesses to report offenders to police. Leefe’s smalltown solution carried the day. Council voted down the cameras – for now.

Meanwhile, businessman Ken Anthony has announced he is temporarily shelving his high-end Privateer Landing condominium project on
Liverpool’s waterfront after a rival company announced plans to build a similar project nearby.

"Our market feasibility study," Anthony explained, "indicated there was a demand for one luxury condo project in the town of Liverpool, but not two."

The numbers?

Anthony had planned to develop a 20-unit project; his competitor’s project calls for 30.

We’re not in Halifax yet.

Not in my back … two kilometres

Cumberland County Council is expected to vote this week on a controversial new bylaw to regulate local wind farms.

Atlantic Wind Power Corporation wants to erect 20 to 27 windmills on a site along the Gulf Shore east of Pugwash in order to generate what it enthusiastically describes as "an abundant, clean and renewable supply of energy from our windy weather."

But some residents suggest living next door to all those clean, green turbines might be bad for their health – and their property values.

Real estate agent Peter Finley, who says selling "cottage country" is a major industry in the region, predicts property values will "drop 30 to 50 per cent as soon as this project is approved."

And Lisa Betts, who lives near the proposed farm, frets the turbines will produce not only "a noise that never goes away" but may also generate harmful health effects for those living so close to high voltage power lines.

The proposed bylaw requires the windmills be situated at least three times as far from existing residences as the height of the turbines – about 300 metres – but Betts believes the setback should be at least two kilometres. The company says that would kill the project.

Cumberland County – already the site of two smaller windmill projects, and with at least one other proposal in the works – would be the first county in the province to regulate wind farms.

Party poopers

Despite last week’s deal between the Liberals and the Greens and public calls for other political parties to stay out of the next federal election so Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay and Green Party leader Elizabeth May can duke it out one-on-one, eye-to-eye, toe-to-toe, mano-to-womano, the NDP has decided not to play along.

Party supporters will meet this afternoon at two o’clock in the Plymouth Fire Hall to choose their candidate for Central Nova in the still uncalled – not to mention uncalled for – federal election.

Louise Lorefice, a retired teacher who’s worked for the party for 25 years, is seeking the opportunity to be the ignored third candidate in what will almost certainly be (at least in the national media) a two-way race.

  1. I worked at the US7 plant of Michelin in Lexington,SC. HR there took the illegal position of threatening us during meetings, “if one of you thinks that unions are a good thing, you don’t belong here, you have to go”. Michelin always establishes operations where they are leaders in the employment markets. They enslave the employees and use the power to abuse the ones who speak their minds. They need to be stopped


  2. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled in Maranda v. Richer that the amount of a bill is privileged.(2003 case)


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