Tensions are high as municipal workers continue their strike action now into its third week but movement from either side is yet to be seen.
“As the employees stand right now, I don’t know that they would waiver and give up any more,” said workers’ bargaining team member Rachel Yee. “The respect issue is becoming bigger with the employees. As time goes by, they’re standing firmer and firmer.”
Workers have been striking over increases in pay in their next collective agreement. The town sits unmoving at a one per cent raise for a two-year term, while the union is demanding 2.5, 2.25 and 2.25 per cent raises over three years respectively. Yee, however, said those are not the only issues.
“The time it took to get that this one per cent offer, it took 11 months,” she told The Hub.
Yee said the last collective agreement came to an end in fall 2013 but that it took seven months to even get to the first round of negotiations.
Originally, she said the union asked for 3.5 per cent per year for three years but conceded on other non-wage-related items including an increase to the contributions made to the employee pension plan.
“We did come down on some things, hoping the town would change their position but they didn’t,” she said, adding that it took another six months for conciliation to begin after breaking off talks.
The workers had a strike vote where those present declined the town’s original zero per cent offer and have not had another formal vote since.
“When the town offered the one per cent, they did it with the same rude, disrespectful demeanor: It was take it or leave it,” said Yee. “We did have hopes that they would reconsider during the cooling off period but that didn’t happen.”
Despite union demands to return to the table, neither side has done so.
Mayor Andrew Cassidy said while there were delays getting to the table, they were not the fault of the town alone.
“When you start bargaining you need to have both sides at the table and both parties have to find a time that’s mutually agreeable,” he said. “There were delays on both sides. It wasn’t deliberate or meant to be disrespectful on our part.”
Cassidy said town operations are as close to business as usual as they can be.
“Council is still unified. We haven’t wavered,” he said. “There haven’t been any seismic shifts on either side. The biggest disruption, unfortunately, has been to recreation but user groups are finding alternatives to keep going.”
Cassidy said that while the union has been playing up the relatively small increase, numbers like $40,000 per year — and characterizations of it being equivalent to a coffee a day — are misleading. The town spent about $3.6 million on salaries last year, he said, and with five directors and one executive assistant, union employees took home a total of about $3 million.
Over the course of three years, the town’s one per cent offer would increase that $3 million cost of salaries up by $181,200. The union’s demands would be closer to $434,100 for a difference of over $250,000.
Union of Northern Workers president Todd Parsons told media last week that the matter could possibly be resolved at two per cent but Cassidy said he had heard no formal offer and Yee confirmed Parsons’ statement that he had no authority to speak for the bargaining team. She said they do want to get back to the table but that the town is the unwilling party.
“We have made our final offer and it remains on the table,” said Cassidy.