City dismayed after vote on tentative agreement halted

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

Story UPDATED on Sunday, Oct. 1

The City of Prince Albert has accused the union representing City inside workers of reneging on their commitment to vote on a new tentative agreement.

The two sides hammered out a tentative agreement on Sept. 27, with a ratification vote by union members scheduled for Friday. However, the City was notified on Friday that CUPE 882, which represents the workers, decided to halt the ratification vote and destroy the ballots cast.

“We are dismayed by the decision of the Union Executive,” City of Prince Albert Corporate Services Director Kiley Bear said in a press release. “Unfortunately, our employees are unable to return to work and are left to grapple with the last minute decision to destroy their ballots.”

According to the press release, City officials were told the vote stopped due to “a number of technological, structural, and organizational changes” which would have come into force immediately upon a return to work.

CUPE 882 confirmed the details in a press release sent out Saturday morning. According to the press release, the union halted the vote after the City of Prince Albert negotiating team alerted the union to a number of changes they planned to implement after union members returned to work.

Bear said the City plans to create a call centre once workers are back on the job. She said that was the only proposed change shared with the union on Friday, and argued that the change had been discussed previously.

Bear said the call centre model was used during the strike to answer phones and it was found to be very effective at improving customer service to residents. She also argued the change does not meet the definition contained in the Saskatchewan Employment Act, and does not violate the City’s collective agreement.

“We heard positive feedback from the public and administration about the efficiencies of addressing calls this way,” Bear said in the press release. “The change includes relocating four clerk steno positions in City Hall to a central location within City Hall to continue to answer calls using a system that has been used by the City for two years.

“The proposed change has no impact on salaries, hours of work and no employment will be lost as a result of the change. It is simply moving four individuals to new desks at City Hall.”

In their own press release, the union argued that those changes are “sweeping technological, structural, and organizational changes.” The union said the City should have given written notice to the Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety because the changes will likely affect the terms, conditions, and tenure of employment for a significant number of employees.

Failing to do so, the union said, is a violation of the Saskatchewan Employment Act.

“None of the proposed changes had been disclosed to the union prior to the Sept. 29 negotiations,” reads the press release. “As a result of this last-minute disclosure, the union felt it had no choice but to notify the employer that they would be halting the ratification vote and destroying the ballots already cast. We cannot in good faith have our members carry out the vote knowing that the employer withheld vital information.

“We are asking the employer to immediately return to the bargaining table, with the assistance of the special mediator, Kristin Anderson, to negotiate the newly identified proposals until the parties reach an agreement. The union will bring a new tentative agreement to the membership for a vote once these new proposals have been thoroughly vetted and bargained.”

Kevin Yates, the HR Manager for the City of Prince Albert, said the change would only impact four out of a possible 218 City employees. He said that’s not enough to be considered a significant number of employees.

“They are once again demanding that the employer return to the bargaining table,” Yates said in the City press release. “Their option, if they objected, would be to file at the Labour Board.”

City of Prince Albert inside workers began job action on Aug. 10, then started a full strike on Sept. 11.