By GORD YOUNG, The Nugget
Thursday, September 12, 2013 7:13:11 EDT PM
BONFIELD – The 627,000 members-strong Canadian Union of Public Employees is digging in its heels following the firing of five striking municipal workers here this week.
The 16 picketing employees were buoyed Thursday by a strong show of solidarity from their national and provincial presidents and other unions and labour groups during a rally outside the municipal office, where they were promised the support needed to outlast the will of the town’s mayor and council.
“I don’t know how long this dispute will go on . . . but we will last one day longer than you to get a collective agreement,” said CUPE national president Paul Moist, his comments directed at Mayor Randy McLaren.
Moist, who was joined at the rally by CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn and Ontario Federation of Labour president Sid Ryan, described the dismissal of five striking workers over allegations of illegal confinement as an “outrageous” tactic.
And he vowed that CUPE would not settle a collective agreement that does not include the reinstatement of those employees.
The forcible confinement allegations stem from strife between the two sides Aug. 15 outside the parish hall where a special meeting of council was scheduled to take place.
The meeting was cancelled due to protesting picketers and residents upset about the timing and notice of the gathering. And the town claims two councillors and others were prevented from leaving the building for about an hour because the exits were being blocked while the mayor was held up outside. Ontario Provincial Police is investigating, but no charges have been laid. The union has also filed an unfair labour practice complaint regarding the matter.
Both Hahn and Ryan lashed out at McLaren, accusing the mayor of using the dismissals to scare the workers and unnerve the union. But they suggested the move has had the opposite effect, and has served only to strengthen their resolve.
“Someone has decided they’re going to make an example of this round of bargaining,” said Hahn, suggesting the town is upping its tactics and warning that CUPE will follow suit.
He told the striking workers that they’re not alone on the picket line and that CUPE members and those in other unions across Canada are behind them.
In addition, Henri Giroux, president of the North Bay and District CUPE Council, told the workers they can expect more members to support them on the picket line and that
other locals and unions will be asked for donations to help beef up their war chest.
The strike, which rolled into its sixth week Thursday, affects 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.
“My message to the mayor is to get back to the bargaining table,” said Ryan, suggesting McLaren is mistaken if he believes he can starve out workers on the picket line or scare them with extreme tactics.
Moist said the union has no intentions of accepting the concessions being sought by the mayor and council. But he suggested the labour dispute could be resolved within hours if a status quo collective agreement, including a fair wage increase, were on the table.
McLaren, however, said the status quo is no longer workable and that the proposal tabled by the town is aimed a changing how it functions. He said Bonfield’s workforce has doubled over the past 15 years and that there still aren’t enough employees to go around due to the entitlements such as sick leave and vacations they receive under the existing collective agreement. He said CUPE argues the town should hire more workers but McLaren said that’s not feasible for a small municipality like Bonfield.
McLaren said he is still hopeful that the union will be forwarding a proposal this week. But he was disappointed to hear that CUPE wants to make the dismissal of the five workers part of the overall bargaining, suggesting the town sees it as a separate issue. McLaren said the town does not want to contract out work. But if the union is digging in for long dispute, he said the town will also have to soon start considering issues such as winter road maintenance.