By JENNIFER HAMILTON-MCCHARLES, The Nugget
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Bonfield Mayor Randy McLaren speaks to a CUPE member Thursday at the parish hall where a special meeting of council had been scheduled. The meeting was cancelled after protests by union members and supporters.
BONFIELD—The Township of Bonfield has fired five of its municipal workers today for allegations of illegal confinement.
Bonfield Mayor Randy McLaren was tight-lipped about the punishments handed down Tuesday following an altercation between striking staff and council in August.
“There has been discipline action for five of the municipal workers for allegations of forcible confinement.”
He confirmed disciplinary letters were sent to appropriate staff Tuesday, but refused to say what the punishments were. When asked if any municipal workers were fired, McLaren said, “I’ll let the union speak to that.”
Canadian Union of Public Employees, representing the 16 striking municipal workers, issued a media release later Tuesday afternoon stating the provocative tactic was designed to intimidate the workers.
“Instead of a proposal, he will be receiving a labour board complaint for his latest stunt,” said Steve Boyle, a national representative with CUPE.
“While McLaren publicly states that he’s looking to see the union’s proposal to help reach a deal and end this strike, he comes out and fires one-third of the bargaining unit,” he said. “This mayor’s latest volley will not help the strike, in fact it will have the opposite effect.”
McLaren said the township conducted its own investigation and on the advice of their lawyer decided to proceed.
The punishments are a result of an August meeting that was cancelled following a confrontation between striking workers and Bonfield council.
CUPE said the mayor claims the five fired workers were preventing two councillors and others from leaving the Bonfield Parish Hall on Aug.15.
“Prior to the attempted Aug.15 meeting, scheduled to be held at 4 p.m. (when most residents were still at work), the mayor cancelled several meetings and in fact there have been no public meetings since July,” according to a CUPE media release.
The township cancelled its regular council meeting Tuesday evening, according to the township’s website, “due to the municipal employees strike.”
Boyle said the residents had found out about the August meeting and had come to the parish hall to let the mayor know they wanted him to restore public services.
“The residents will be unhappy the mayor is firing workers without true cause. CUPE will support our members fully and will do what it takes to have the workers reinstated,” Boyle said.
Deputy Mayor Tamela Price-Fry reported she was inside the building with her husband, Coun. Jane Lagassie and a person brought in to act as clerk for the meeting and was prevented from leaving for about an hour because the exits were blocked.
She said the incident was reported to police.
Boyle has stood by his members and said he was not aware of any CUPE members blocking the exits.
He said union members were busy speaking to the mayor outside the parish hall and noted that a police officer was on site receiving phone calls and that the gathering dispersed peacefully.
Both sides met on Friday but it wasn’t to reach an agreement. It was to attend the Ontario Labour Relations Board.
Boyle said this latest development will also be filed to the labour board.
Municipal workers have been off the job since Aug. 1, affecting services such as road maintenance, tax payments, building permits, inspections, planning services and general inquiries.
CUPE says key issues are the threat of contracting out and a list of concessions demanded from the municipality including attacks on seniority, training, employment security, scheduling, vacations, sick leave and benefits.
The municipality is seeking changes to the existing collective agreement, including reducing the number of bankable sick days to which employees are entitled, increasing the length of service required for additional vacation entitlement and extending the probationary period for new hires.