Prince Albert City Council votes to discuss labour dispute in private

Ward 6 Coun. Blake Edwards – Herald file photo

Prince Albert City Council has voted in favour of discussing a labour dispute with CUPE 882 in private – something one union member voiced as “shameful.”

Council’s meeting on Monday evening included a motion from Ward 2 Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp to schedule a bargaining meeting to discuss outstanding issues with the union.

CUPE 882, which represents inside workers for the City of Prince Albert, has been on the picket line for nearly two months.

Ward 6 Coun. Blake Edwards stepped in to move that council have a discussion in private. This would include concerns brought forward from one resident that Lennox-Zepp is at a conflict of interest, since her husband has been a CUPE 882 representative in the past.

“Coun. Lennox-Zepp knows that labour relation matters are, for good reason, legislated to be discussed and decided in camera, confidential from the union and not in public,” said Edwards.

Ward 5 Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick agreed, saying her motion is “totally out of order.”

Lennox-Zepp said she simply wanted to set a date for a bargaining meeting.

“Is that something that we can debate publicly? Is it appropriate to debate publicly? Of course it is because it’s a governance issue,” she said.

“I would urge this council that we should not fear discussing this publicly in front of our workers, in front of the public, in front of taxpayers.”

Tensions between union members and the city have escalated since the start of the strike.

Striking CUPE 882 members use horns and bells to make noise outside of Prince Albert City Hall on Nov. 7, 2023. – Jayda Taylor, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter/Daily Herald

In mid-October, a video posted on CUPE 882’s Facebook page alleged that Mayor Greg Dionne bumped two picketers with his truck as he was attempting to leave the City Hall parking lot.

At Monday’s council meeting, Ogrodnick said he was called a “nerdy little bastard” in a Facebook comment, and that CUPE 882 “liked” it. The Herald has not been able to verify this comment on social media.

“Do we want to get into all this bashing and all of this publicly? No,” he said.

Edward’s motion to have Lennox-Zepp’s proposal removed from the public agenda passed. At this time, a CUPE 882 member shouted “shameful, absolutely shameful.”

Dionne told the member to leave the gallery.

CUPE 882 Vice-President Cara Stelmaschuk said while fair wages are at the forefront, a lack of respect plays a large part in the strike.

CUPE 882 Vice-President Cara Stelmaschuk (centre) pickets outside of Prince Albert City Hall on Nov. 7, 2023. – Jayda Taylor, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter/Daily Herald

“There is absolutely no willingness on the part of the employer to even bargain. They just keep saying ‘give us a new proposal.’ No, it actually has to be a conversation,” she said.

“Maybe the citizens don’t need to know all of the details before they’re finalized or hashed out, but the discussion to say ‘this is how it’s supposed to work,’ that can happen in public. That doesn’t have to be a big, heavy, dark secret.”

CUPE 882 and the City of Prince Albert were initially at impasse over a one per cent difference in wage increases. Stelmashuck said a one per cent increase would cost the city an additional $48,000.

Last month, union members voted against a tentative deal that included an 11 per cent general wage increase, including adjustments to bring the lowest paid employees above minimum wage, vision coverage and expanded EFAP coverage to include non-permanent employees.