stats Making the Business of Life Easier

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Canada's Apartheid, by John Stackhouse
  Nov. 3

Welcome to Harlem on the Prairies
  Nov. 3 (Saskatoon, SK)

Crystal's choice: The best of both worlds
  Nov. 5 (Mississauga, ON)

How the Mi'kmaq profit from fear
  Nov. 6 (Cape Breton, NS)

The healing power of hockey
  Nov. 7 (The Pas, MB)

Norma Rae of the Okanagan
  Nov. 8 (Westbank, BC)

Comic genius or 'niggers in red face'?
  Nov. 9 (Regina, SK)

Praying for a miracle
  Nov. 10 (Lac Ste. Anne, AB)

To have and to have not
  Nov. 12 (Moosonee, ON)

Trouble in paradise
  Nov. 19 (Tofino, BC)

A cut of the action
  Nov. 26 (Wabigoon, ON)

The young and the restless
  Dec. 3 (Ashern, MB)

The wireless warrior's digital dream
  Dec. 10 (Ottawa,ON)

'Everyone thought we were stupid'
  Dec. 14 (Salluit, QC)

First step: End the segregation
  Dec. 15 (Last in the series)


Norma Rae of the Okanagan

Story by John Stackhouse. Photos by John Lehmann.
The Globe and Mail, November 8, 2001

Part 7 of 8: 'Sometimes they're a vehicle' for change

West Bank locator The union also negotiated an agreement to hire natives first, to have management pay for "culturally appropriate" training for staff to deal with native residents and to extend the probation period -- all in order to soothe fears that it was imposing a new workplace culture on the reserve.

"So unions aren't always about poor management," comments Ron Derrickson's cousin, Jo-Ann, the home's administrator. "Sometimes they're a vehicle" for change.

She says her management team spent too much time trying to keep out the union, only to discover how good it could be. In the past, she recalls, "if someone was late, you would let it go. Now, if you have so many 'lates,' you have a discussion of what's going on. . . . It allows us to be more proactive."

Maintenance worker Blaine Mills says the union has made it "10 times better" at the home. He married into a native family, but he knew his job was always in jeopardy. "Every election, you would hear the rumours: 'They're going to fire all the white people.' Now, elections come and go."

The union's success at Pine Acres has not rubbed off at the band office, where talks on a collective agreement have dragged on and on.

Prospects of a settlement seemed to rise last year when the people of Westbank voted out Derrickson by a count of 127 to 78. Some people did not like paying $500 a day for his services. Others did not like his anti-union stance (during the campaign, he claimed that the added cost would erode social assistance, schooling and health care for everyone). And he was accused of threatening to punish band workers who voted for his rival, Brian Eli.

But what really cost Derrickson the chief's job was another investment scheme -- he had persuaded the council to put $2.5-million in a medical research company, in which he had already held a stake.

Ever the entrepreneur, Derrickson now runs his real-estate holdings from an office overlooking one of them: Old Macdonald's Farm, a theme park off the highway that cuts through the reserve. If more people were like him, he says, Westbank -- blessed by warm weather and access to Kelowna's work force and international airport -- would be buzzing with economic activity.

But unions will only reinforce the stagnation he says many of his neighbours have come to accept. As chief, "one thing I found was the work ethic wasn't there," he says, watching stock prices flicker across his desktop computer screen. "One thing the reserve system doesn't instill is discipline: 'Put in a good day's work.' "
THIS STORY AT A GLANCE (Parts 1 to 8 plus a related film review):

Photo Essay
Westbank and the union

1. Inviting big labour
'Every other Canadian citizen is guaranteed the right to belong to a union'

2. Westbank's emerging class system
Rapid development transforms the secluded reserve to an affluent suburb

3. 'It was a very turbulent time to be an employee'
The struggle for solidarity on the reserve

4. Playing tough
Put your money where your mouth is, chief tells union reps

5. Colonial parallels
'Just another form of non-native people trying to shape their destiny'

6. 'We are the cash cow'
Leaseholders lobby for a greater voice in reserve affairs
7. 'Sometimes they're a vehicle' for change
Union successes in one workplace

8. Election fever and the union
'All of the employees are afraid of losing their jobs at the next election'

Related story: Globe review of the 1979 film Norma Rae - A primer on the original Norma Rae. Contains relaed Web links.



photo essays
Two worlds - photo essay

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