City calls on union to apologize for picket line behaviour during strike

CUPE 882 workers picket outside of Prince Albert City Hall on Sept. 11, 2023. – Herald file photo

Inside workers may be back on the job after a 12-week strike, but the City of Prince Albert says it’s still receiving complaints about how union members behaved on the picket line.

Members of CUPE 882 returned work on Tuesday after council ratified their new contract at Monday’s council meeting. In a press release issued Friday morning, however, City Manager Sherry Person said the City continues to hear from residents who were unhappy about union member conduct during the strike.

Person said the majority of the concerns come from parents whose children attended or where a part of the Broadway North Youth Company production ‘The Little Mermaid Jr.’ that ran at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre in early December.

“The actions taken by picketers fell well below CUPE’s standards and those it expects the employer to uphold,” Person said in the press release. “We continue to hear from parents and residents who are appalled by the behaviour and deeply concerned about how they and their children were treated.

“We would like the public to be assured that we are equally disappointed by the behaviour and wish that CUPE 882 would have publicly apologized to those teachers, parents, attendees, and children that have been affected.”

City of Prince Albert Human resources manager Kevin Yates said he’s received “well over two dozen serious complaints.” While there were a few minor ones at other facilities like the Art Hauser Centre, or Alfred Jenkins Fieldhouse, Yates said all of the serious ones involved behavior outside the Rawlinson or City Hall.

“We had some irate people and I got some extremely irate phone calls,” Yates said. “I was being forwarded the really aggressive calls…. I mean, really aggressive—people who wanted to harm people, because of the way their kids, in particular their handicap children, were treated.”

Yates said most union members behaved in a professional manner while on the picket line. He said a small group of members responsible for all the calls.

Ideally, he’d like to see the CUPE 882 national office apologize for the poor behavior.

“It’s really an acknowledgement that even in this type of stressful situation, it could have and should have been handled better,” Yates said. “I think that would go a long way for a lot of those people.

“I don’t know that that would solve the problem for those individuals, but at least they would get some acknowledgement that it wasn’t right.”

Yates said the City cannot discipline any inside worker for their conduct on the picket line because they are not legally considered City employees while striking. He said residents upset with how union members behaved should instead call the CUPE regional or national office.

City ‘taking unnecessary potshots at employees’ says union rep

In a response to the City’s press release, CUPE national servicing rep Janice Janzen said that members are dedicated to returning to work, and leaving the ordeal of the strike behind them. Janzen said that’s going to be much harder now.

“We are incredibly disappointed with the tone and timing of the City of Prince Albert’s media release,” said Janzen, who works in CUPE’s Prince Albert office.

“We want to acknowledge that during the 85 days on the picket line there were moments that were incredibly stressful and heated. These moments were made more difficult by an employer who showed little interest in building a harmonious relationship with staff.

“The situation at the Little Mermaid production was regrettable. We issued an apology at that time and took immediate action to defuse the situation and moved the picket line away from that location.”

Janzen said mending the relationship between the City and its inside workers is crucial for morale, job satisfaction, and the effective delivery of services. She said the City has to do much better if that’s going to happen.

“We hope that the City of Prince Albert will come to their senses and start rebuilding a productive relationship, not taking unnecessary pot shots at their employees,” she said.