"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.' "