It was likely not what either side wanted in a municipal strike which has ground onwards for over 40 days.
An April 7 council meeting turned, temporarily, in to a public hollering match when Unifor 2300 members were given the floor to present information to council.
But union members hoping to hear answers to specific questions were denied when council opted to maintain only hearing from the union as they presented details from their final offer, presented as a response to the union’s belief that councillors hadn’t been given adequate explanation of their demands from the city’s bargaining unit.
That said, there were some words exchanged from councillors and from the mayor during the meeting.
The union’s presentation centred on two points; one that councillors were not properly informed of the union’s own offer to settle before the strike even began, and secondly to question why some aspects of a new collective agreement are not being discussed at the bargaining table.
“We need to know why council never got to see the offer to settle,” said Martin McIlwrath, the business agent representing Unifor 2300 in bargaining. “If you look at the way things have played out, council wasn’t willing to continue bargaining, never got to see our offer to settle. Our members, your employees, were out on the streets from February 28 to March 16. March 16 is the first time council got to see our offer to settle. How is that possible?”
Mayor Phil Germuth reiterated what he’s said publicly before, that council has been very informed on offers.
That said, he admits that all councillors likely didn’t read the entire 40+ page document, relying on the town’s bargaining team to inform them of any changes made from existing offers, rather than re-read similar documents repeatedly.
“They updated us on whatever changes were there from previous days of negotiations,” said Germuth.
Further the union pressed for clarification on why there was no movement on certain key issues, namely language that establishes mutual shared valued, and language that cements the number of full-time positions at the District.
The union says they’ve figured that the District needs an overall minimum of 90 full-time positions, taking in to account all the work that could be done by union members an not contracted out.
Contracted-out work was a major sticking point for McIlwrath at the council meeting, also proposing that contracts for work must include provisions that the wages paid are equal do the wages accepted by the union for comparable positions.
“We’re sitting, watching the erosion of services before our eyes and we’re not going to put up with it anymore.”
Germuth said that the council has listened to the suggestion of involving mediation to solve the outstanding issues and council met last night to talk about the subject. No updates on that subject are yet available.
Back to that April 7 council meeting, Germuth did end the back-and-forth with the union with a final statement, saying the District of Kitimat and Unifor had to share responsibility for issues which have existed for the past 30 years.
The District, he said, responded directly to union concerns by increasing the number of full time positions in Leisure Services and addressing safety and training issues by offering to take on the services of an occupational health and safety officer to give recommendations.
A joint union-District committee would also be formed under the new agreement to look at training needs to keep staff at the right skillset for any future potential jobs.
He also said the pay raise keeps the union in the top two in the province with other municipal employees.
“We feel we are taking our share of responsibility for the past, however the union must also accept their share of responsibility in addressing employee discontent. The history of grievance claims against the District of Kitimat does not support the union’s claims. There are not numerous complaints to the Workers Compensation Board for unsafe practices and there have been no complaints to the BC Human Rights Tribunal regarding the exploitation of women,” he said.
Germuth also said that he doesn’t buy the union saying grievances haven’t been filed due to threats of retribution.
“Well, isn’t one of the reasons to belong to union is to have the union stand up for your rights when you for whatever reason aren’t able to do so yourself? What has the union been doing to represent our District workers for the last 30 years?”
He added, “You cannot fix 30 years of problems in two-to-three months.”
As for the demand of wage parity with Rio Tinto Alcan employees, he said that handcuffs future councils and taxpayers to wage increases “out of our control.”
“RTA is RTA, the District of Kitimat is the District of Kitimat. You cannot compare an industry to a municipality. If workers want RTA wages, and we would be sorry to see them go, then they would have to apply at RTA.”
Germuth’s statement was not embraced well by union members in attendance.
“The only thing you’ve guaranteed is this strike is not going to end with that statement. You guys should all resign, you’re killing this town, you’ve been killing it for 20 years. You’re in trouble,” shouted McIlwrath, who at this point was back in the gallery.