Unionized District of Kitimat employees vote for strike but will hold actions for after Monday hearing

Union claims challenges from city in getting to the bargaining table, as District sees financial demands onerous to taxpayers.

Martin McIlwrath, the business agent representing the District of Kitimat employees, says the union absolutely will work towards avoiding a strike, but even if it comes to that they will await essential service designations from the Labour Relations Board before serving a notice.

As of Friday union members had voted 95 per cent in favour of strike action, but Unifor 2300 is waiting for an essential services hearing scheduled for Monday before potentially issuing a strike notice.

He said there were still meetings planned between the District and themselves.

“We’re still trying to avoid a labour dispute, for sure,” he said.

McIlwrath says it had been a struggle getting the city’s negotiators to the table to bargain but assured that no snow clearing efforts were compromised due to collective agreement negotiations.

2300 released a letter last week outlining the timeline for bargaining since December, explaining their frustrations making headway, while negotiations are now well past the expiry of the last agreement which ended December 31, 2014.

The letter was a means to combat rumours on social media that snow clearing may have been slowed due to contract issues and that the members may have already been on strike.

A month’s worth of meetings in January only resulted in 21 of their 90 or so items reaching agreement with the District, the union says. The District of Kitimat also indicate they’ve met eye to eye on approximately 20 topics.

Union demands cover a wide range from wages, to seniority issues, to health and safety.

The District of Kitimat, meanwhile, has issued a media release of their own regarding negotiations, saying that the District of Kitimat and the union have met 18 times.

The District says the 90 demands of the union “[amounts] to re-writing much of the Collective Agreement.”

“District of Kitimat employees already earn among the highest wages in the province,” the District’s release adds. “The District has tabled a two percent wage increase, which is consistent with other municipal contracts. The Union’s proposals would significantly increase the cost of the District of Kitimat’s operations and constrain the ability to deliver public services.”

The District of Kitimat says the union’s operational financial proposals would result in a minimum 12 per cent property tax increase.

Responding to the union’s strike vote, deputy Chief Administrative Officer Warren Waycheshen  simply acknowledged the vote, and referred to the Labour Relations Board meeting set for Monday on essential services.

“The District of Kitimat is committed to continue working towards reaching a Collective Agreement,” he added.

Contract negotiations aside, the union is calling for a full investigation in to how the town handled the recent snow storm.

The Kitimat council has also called for a review. Acting mayor Mario Feldhoff said at the February 10 Committee of the Whole meeting that there will be one conducted.