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Union and town still divided after rally at Kitimat council meeting

Unifor 2300 members picketed outside the Kitimat Council chambers Monday night and presented to councillors during the meeting too.
Councillor Rob Goffinet faces the Unifor crowd outside the council chambers. He later opts to turn around rather than cross.

The situation between the town and its employees didn't soften any after a picket line rally in front of the council chambers Monday night ahead of a regular meeting.

Unifor 2300 members held the line at the doorways to the facility, which is the Kitimat campus of the Northwest Community College, shouting "Shame" to passing exempt District employees on their way in.

Three councillors, Rob Goffinet, Edwin Empinado and Claire Rattee, did not attend the meeting, opting not to conduct business by passing through the line.

That left the remaining councillors, Larry Walker, Mario Feldhoff, Mary Murphy and Mayor Phil Germuth to face several dozen workers who later packed the chambers, as well as a presentation from Unifor's Martin McIlwrath and Jeremy Dos Santos.

The pair went through their concerns regarding bargaining, from issues not addressed to wrong information being released in the public.

"The bigger issue is the poisonous work environment," said McIlwrath.

The work environment is a problem that's ongoing for years and he said it didn't change in any notable way since the new chief administrative officer Ron Poole took the job just shy of four years ago.

"We put out the olive branch back and said Friday 'listen, this [offer] doesn't address the issues that we're trying to change in the workplace, but we're willing to work through the night, all night, all day, whatever we can to get a deal done,'" said McIlwrath. "Instead you guys went to the media and started individually e-mailing our members try to promote a deal, your final offer, trying to make it sound like it was the best offer ever made. So you were trying to perhaps cause a mutiny or something within our union but all you did was anger our members because these are their issues."

"We feel we made a fair final offer," shot back Germuth once McIlwrath seemed finished. "We are willing to work through the terms of a collective agreement to address all the issues that couldn't be addressed immediately."

Germuth says he stands behind the administration and the bargaining committee.

"We gave them full direction, we know what we're putting out there and we trust that we've put out facts," he added.

The two did come at odds to what was in the most recent offer, McIlwrath saying the mayor's comments on a CBC radio broadcast earlier were inaccurate.

Germuth had told a CBC interviewer that the lowest person on the pay scale would see a 15 per cent raise, but that came from an older, dropped wage demand from earlier in negotiations, said McIlwrath.

The new offer would bump up employees about six to eight per cent over two years, he said, not 15 per cent.

McIlwrath also pointed to his belief that the city has $54 million in reserves, but that's a figure the council immediately denied.

The District of Kitimat later issued a release clarifying the status of their reserves. The $54 million does exist but not as excess cash.

The District says their $54.34 million in assets include just over $38 million in capital assets such as sidewalks and equipment which have been purchased, but is not a value available as money to the town.

Further $6.9 million in reserve funds are designated for specific goals, such as building management and roads, they say.

Finally, $9.2 million in operating surplus is for items such as snow removal, large equipment and building reserves.