Union rejects binding arbitration

There is still no end in sight for the three-month District of Kitimat workers’ strike that has left Kitimat at a standstill

There is still no end in sight for the three-month District of Kitimat workers’ strike that has left Kitimat at a standstill.

Unifor 2300 has rejected binding arbitration as the third round of mediation between the union and the District failed to reach a deal by the afternoon of May 23. Negotiations had to be wrapped-up by that time because the mediator was scheduled to fly out of town.

In a subsequent press release on May 25, the District of Kitimat proposed binding arbitration – a process that would see a mediator draw-up a deal after listening to both parties. If binding arbitration was agreed to, employees would have returned to work while the process occurred.

The union refused to comment on the District’s proposal until three days later when they informed the District of their decision to reject the proposal. Their announcement was relayed to the public through the District’s press release on May 28.

Unifor 2300 could not be reached for comment on their decision to reject binding arbitration.

As for reaching a deal, the latest three-day round of mediation was the last instalment of nine days of mediated discussion between the union and the District that have only aggravated tensions between them.

In the last minutes of the May 23 meeting, the union’s Bargaining Committee outlined their “Bedrock Position.” They stated that this final Offer to Settle was “the bare minimum that will improve our working lives.” The District was unable to respond to the proposal slated just five minutes before the mediator’s departure.

That is when the District decided to propose binding arbitration. “Enough is enough, we are willing to put everything on the table,” said Mayor Phil Germuth of the proposal.

The union then rejected the proposal, but maintained in a press release on May 26 that they are getting close to a deal.

Both sides claim to have made significant compromises over the mediation process and blame the other party for the stalemate. Mayor Phil Germuth maintains that the District’s offer is fair and, in a press release on May 25, states that “this dispute is ultimately about who is going to run the District of Kitimat.”

The union maintains issues around safety and harassment and the extent of contracted-out work are not being properly addressed by the District’s proposals.

They also have concerns about signing an agreement that does not guarantee a minimum number of full-time jobs nor assigns wage increases based on the level of new industry in Kitimat.

Meanwhile, the District maintains that their proposed 2.5 per cent wage increase in each of the next three years and new full-time jobs in leisure services are generous.

They also feel that their current policy on safety and harassment is adequate.

The heated negotiations have devolved into shouting in some cases and strikers have picketed Kitimat Council meetings.

The District called in the efforts of a third-party negotiator to handle the city’s side after the District felt that bargaining sessions were becoming too abusive to staff.

Details of the last two months’ negotiations cannot be released as they are bound by a confidentiality agreement.

The strike has greatly affected Kitimat recreational services with no access to the pool, the arena, or the Senior’s Centre.

Both sides emphasize that they are committed to returning the services to the community as soon as possible.

The union’s Business Agent Martin Mcllwrath said “[they’re] as eager as anyone to resume services to the citizens of Kitimat, but [they] can’t do that if the negotiators are going in circles.”

Similarly, the mayor said that “[he] feels the concerns for the people of the community.”

As the strike enters its fourth month, there is no word yet on when talks will resume.