CUPE 882 begins work to rule action

Prince Albert City Hall (Daily Herald File Photo)

With no agreement in place between the City of Prince Albert and CUPE 882, the first steps in a possible strike were put into place on Thursday morning.

CUPE 882 Vice-President Cara Stelmaschuk says members are not picketing but have begun actions that may progress to a full removal of services as voted upon by union members on June 26 if a new contract is not agreed upon.

“It’s more of a strike action. We call it almost a work to rule situation. As of this morning at 8 a.m., our members weren’t training their colleagues, managers or any other contractors that might come into the workplace. The reason behind that is that it’s harder for things to carry on if we aren’t in the office. That was level one and a good starting point to really point out to the workplace, your people do all this work for you and the amount that they actually are dependent on. It really strikes that chord that you need us. We’re not replaceable. These people are very (well) trained, a lot of them doing this job for a very long time. Their dedication to the city is what entitles them to a good conversation around their bargaining.”

CUPE 882 represents City administration, information technology, bylaw enforcement, building inspections, recreation, and arts employees.

The city of Prince Albert had offered an 11 percent wage increase over five years, while CUPE had responded with a 12 percent wage increase that would provide union members with an extra $15 every two weeks on average. The union was also seeking non-monetary benefits in the new contract.

With the union in the early stages of a possible strike, Stelmaschuk says members do not feel they are getting adequate respect in the negotiations.

“The way negotiations went, the way we hit a wall basically with the employer. The general feeling is very much that it is disrespectful. The city can do what it can do and provide the services it does because of the people that have been doing that for them. To not at least have the respect of being able to have a conversation at a bargaining table with give and take back and forth, it’s incredibly disrespectful. We’re entitled to a nice conversation and a good chance to bargain and discuss what our concerns are and hear theirs.”

Greg Dionne, the Mayor of Prince Albert spoke to reporters following the city council meeting on Monday afternoon. He says the offer that the city submitted was one of the best in the country.

“We continue to ready ourselves the possibility of a strike and the ball is in their park,” Dionne said.

“We have no more money and we’ve made that quite clear and I still am in shock when you get one of the highest offers in Canada, you say no.”

CUPE 882 members have been without a contract since December 2021. Stelmaschuk says inflation has changed the economic situation significantly since the union last agreed to a contract with the city.

“It’s kind of a listless, floating feeling if you’re still living on an old contract, but the basic thing right now is that we are still living on our 2021 wages, and since 2021, things have changed drastically.”

When inflation is taken into consideration, Stelmaschuk said employees would actually see a pay reduction.

“If you want to really look at how much things cost now versus what everything was like when we agreed to that contract, it’s completely different. Every single employee of the city is now making technically 6 per cent less just because our buying power is eroding before our eyes.”

Stelmaschuk says she is relatively new to the executive branch of CUPE 882 but can’t recall a time when relations between the two parties were at a worse point.

“There are people on our executive (team) who have been through these three or four times before with bargaining, and it has never gone this way. The executive, the bargaining committee we have right now, it’s all new territory. Basically, we’ve never been in this situation before. We’ve always been able to negotiate in good faith and have the discussion.”

“I think to reiterate the fact that since 2016, the CUPE wage increase has been 9 per cent, which of course with inflation going up 6 per cent last year alone, that’s a statement right there. And in that same period of time, we’ve seen the councilors receive a 20 per cent pay increase. So, they’re asking us to do less. Councilors do also rely on our services to do what they do. It doesn’t seem fair that they’re asking us to do more with less than what they’ve given themselves.”

CUPE 882 did not indicate any timeline of when further strike actions may go into effect.

-With files from Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald.