Inside workers and City spar over proposed return to work agreement

CUPE 882 members strike outside City Hall on Friday, Nov. 3. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

The City of Prince Albert may have come to a tentative agreement with inside workers represented by CUPE 882, but the war of words continues.

On Friday, the union, which represents roughly 90 permanent and 60-70 non-permanent staff, accused the City of Prince Albert of refusing to sign a return to work agreement, a stance disputed by the City’s human resources manager.

“We know that the public is ready for us to return to work. We are also ready to get back to work and provide the services Prince Albert residents rely on,” CUPE 882 vice-president Cara Stelmaschuk said in a press release.

“We had hoped that City Council would have called an emergency meeting to get our members back to work as soon as possible, but this did not happen. Mayor Greg Dionne could have called for an emergency meeting of council with 48 hours notice instead of waiting for the regularly scheduled council meeting. Our membership voted in favour of this agreement over a week ago, but all we are seeing is more delays and threats from leadership.”

Union and City bargaining committee members met with a special conciliator on Tuesday to begin negotiating a return-to-work agreement. The union said that agreement is a standard process after a strike, and helps union members return to work with minimal conflict.

The union says they agreed to a return-to-work process Tuesday evening, but hours later City negotiators said they were unwilling to sign it.

The two sides met again on Thursday, where Yates presented an updated return to work agreement with several changes. The biggest would require union members to drop all charges stemming from an altercation between picketers and Mayor Greg Dionne, who was accused of striking two workers with his vehicle while attempting to drive through the picket line.

CUPE national representative Janice Janzen blasted the City’s proposal in a statement issued Thursday, calling them “inappropriate and potentially illegal.” Instead, she said union members would return to picket City facilities, including the E.A. Rawlinson Centre, which is hosting the Broadway North Youth Company performance of The Little Mermaid Jr.

“Tensions are high, and the city continues to pour gas on the fire instead of trying to calm the water,” Janzen said. “Due to the city’s refusal to sign the return-to-work agreement, we are left with no other option but to picket city facilities and events–including the Little Mermaid. We will continue our standard practice of delaying traffic by walking across accesses.

“We know that this is causing a disruption, but there is an easy solution: we urge the city to sign the negotiated return-to-work agreement as soon as possible.”

City of Prince Albert Human Resources Manager Kevin Yates called the union’s allegations “completely inaccurate” in an interview Friday afternoon. Yates said the return to work agreement discussed on Tuesday was only a draft version.

“There was never an agreed document between the parties,” Yates said. “There was a discussion, and then a draft, which we reviewed (and) changed after discussions yesterday, and they do not like some of the provisions and protections we put in there that are balanced.”

Yates said there have been complaints on both sides about altercations on the picket line. He said the City has also received complaints about security guards being assaulted, however, Yates said it was in the best interest of both parties to drop all charges once union members returned to work.

“What we’re saying is all that stuff gets dropped, on all sides,” he said. “You can’t just say that the union members coming back have protection, and then six months down the road they can go back and re-raise these issues.

“You can’t hold these things over managers’ heads forever either, or people who came to work who are members of the bargaining unit that crossed the picket line,” he added. “You put everything to bed so that everybody comes back.”

If accepted, the new return to work agreement means no union members would be punished or charged for blocking a school bus from entering the E.A. Rawlinson parking lot on Thursday, forcing the bus to drop off students, including one child in a wheelchair, on the street.

Yates said he’s received many calls from parents who want those union members fired. He said they’re willing to move on from the incident, but only if union members drop their charges too.

“They wanted me to fire every damn one of those members, and that’s the way they were voicing it,” Yates said. “There were some very, very angry people, but we have taken, and will continue to take, the high road.

“We’re protecting those employees for everything they’ve done while they’ve been on strike too, but an equal protection needs to be afforded to those people who came to work that crossed the picket line and for managers and members of city council that they have made allegations against too during the strike. Protect everybody.”