No talks scheduled in CUPE month-long strike in Bonfield

Wednesday, August, 28, 2013   http://www.northbaynipissing.com

BonfieldStrike

BONFIELD – Bonfield council and the union appear to be digging in for what could be a drawn out strike with the two sides not sitting down for negotiations since June of this year and at press time no new talks scheduled.

The walkout began on Aug. 1 after the union voted down a final offer from council in July.

Business in the township has ground to a halt since the strike began with all 16 employees – including the clerk, chief building official and public works supervisor – walking off the job. In most municipalities that have unionized these positions are considered management and left outside the bargaining unit.

The lack of any management staff has created challenges for the council, which hasn’t met since the strike began on Aug. 1. The Municipal Act requires they have a designated recording secretary in the form of a clerk or deputy clerk. Council has been able to figure out how to appoint a new person to the deputy clerk position and even attempted to meet on Aug. 15, but union protestors blocked the entrances to the municipal office.

At issue is not wages but conditions in the contract with more than 40 outstanding issues still to be resolved between the two sides. Items identified include everything from council’s ability to contract out work to the winter schedule for the roads crew to when workers get paid.

Mayor Randy McLaren says he is prepared to sit down and talk with the union as soon as he hears they are willing to make concessions.

“If they have something new that they want to talk about they are having a very difficult time expressing it,” said McLaren. “All they want to talk about is getting back to the table generally.”

The union representatives have been applying pressure for council to meet, sending out flyers in the mail and issuing press releases calling for the return to the bargaining table.

Services in the municipality have all but stopped with the exception of garbage disposal which council is providing itself with the assistance of a security company to keep the peace at the landfill site.

All of Bonfield’s bills, including some payroll are on hold. These are mostly employees for boards of council such as the library.

“They have all communicated with us that they will share the pain, if you will, and wait for this to get resolved. If it goes on for longer we do have the ability to pay them or any other bills at the bank,” said McLaren.

On the union side CUPE negotiator Steve Boyle says he is frustrated that there are no new talks scheduled at this point but his membership isn’t prepared to bow to council’s demands.

“The employer wants major concessions, which we don’t want… They want to be able to contract out the work,” said Boyle.

However, if the strike carries on much longer that is exactly what will happen. McLaren has been in touch with Municipal Affairs and Housing on a regular basis and has received advice about how to proceed.

“I have the authority under the Municipal Act to make unilateral decisions. Its not the most appropriate way of doing things but it is legal,” said McLaren.

Story by Rob Learn        rlearn@metrolandnorthmedia.com

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