City promises ‘business as usual’ as inside workers hit the picket line

A Local CUPE 882 union member waves a flag at passing traffic while picketing one block away from City Hall on Monday, Sept. 11. – Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Members of the City of Prince Albert said they’re prepared to go six months without inside workers, and possibly more, as members of CUPE Local 882 officially hit the picket line on Monday.

Roughly one month after beginning a work to rule job action, union members began picketing on the sidewalks surrounding City Hall Monday morning. City of Prince Albert Human Resources manager Kevin Yates and Corporate Services Director Kiley Bear held a press conference on Monday afternoon and vowed the strike wouldn’t negatively impact City services.

“In terms of services today, it is business as usual for us,” Bear told reporters. “We have put back-up plans to have services available as normal for now. Areas of our operation are under review as the days go by and we’ll continue to assess, but as of today, it’s business as usual.”

Bear said they have out-of-scope or replacement workers ready to ensure city services continue in the short-term.

Long-term, Yates said they have contingency plans to operate without union employees for the next six months, and are already discussing plans if the strike lasts even longer.

“We are in direct planning with those (affected) organizations, and working out plans moving forward,” Yates said. “At this point, we have plans that allow us to continue moving forward with service delivery.”

“A lot of our facilities cover recreation programming, and these are really valued services for the City of Prince Albert residents,” Bear added. “We have to consider that these services will continue and that they’re important for residents, so we invite service groups to continue using the facilities as they normally would. They’re welcome, and we’ll be there to help them and serve them as they normally would.”

Union members met with the City’s bargaining committee on Thursday, Sept. 7, where Local 882 was invited to submit another proposal. The City rejected that proposal on Sunday, and Bear said it showed members “were not serious” about getting down to discussions that would resolve the issue.

Bear said the proposal still calls for a 12 per cent general wage increase over four years, one per cent higher than what the City is offering. It also includes changes to vacation time rules, which would allow long-serving City employees to access an extra week of vacation earlier in their careers.

Bear said discussions on Sept. 7 went well, and they hoped for a better proposal from the union.

“An agreement takes two parties to come together to have discussions based on what is realistic,” she said. “We’re put forward openly, and very honestly, and very consistently what we have to work with. If they can come within those parameters, we can start to have discussions again.”

CUPE Local 882 vice-president Cara Stelmaschuk was one of dozens of City employees walking the picket line outside City Hall during the day. She said the union hoped to have a deal in place by this time, but is prepared to hold out as long as is necessary.

“It’s an absolutely beautiful day. The sun is out. It’s gorgeous, and spirits right now are pretty high,” Stelmaschuk said. “We could be at our desks, and as nice as it is, we’d really rather be at our desks, given the situation, but spirits are pretty high out here.”

Stelmaschuk strongly disagreed with suggestions the union wasn’t serious about resolving the issue. She said the union already tapered off demands in their last proposal after seeing some of the costs the City was dealing with.

She said the union reduced its Additional Duty Pay increase from 25 per cent to 20 per cent, and decreased requests for vacation improvements, but won’t budge from their demands for a 12 per cent pay increase.

Stelmaschuk said settling with the union for a one per cent pay increase would be much more financially sustainable for the City than operating the next six months with replacement workers.

“The similar fact of the matter is if they have to bring in third party contractors to do all the jobs that we do, it’s going to cost them a heck of a lot more than that one per cent,” she said.

City of Prince Albert inside workers have been working to rule since Aug. 10 by refusing to train management, co-workers, and contractors, and by ignoring dress codes. This is the first strike in CUPE Local 882’s history.