City workers in the city of Prince Albert, Sask., are on strike for the fifth official day as of Friday. The union and the city have been at odds for months over wage agreements.
Some city workers have been on the picket lines since Monday, Sept. 11. Before the strike began on Monday, the union said they had given the city a two-week notice.
According to CUPE 882 vice-president Cara Stelmaschuk, the strike could have been avoided if the city was willing to meet at the bargaining table.
“We tried to reach out for multiple meetings, but we did not get a lot of responses. There was a very last-minute meeting scheduled for last Thursday. At that meeting we were told that if we changed our proposal, they would still consider it,” Stelmaschuk said.
“So, we got some costings, change the proposal around, dialed back a few things and then it was just rejected again.
“It’s been abundantly clear that they are not willing to bargain, which is a real shame. That’s our right as a union. This is how these jobs get done. They’re done at the bargaining table. It’s only going to happen if we’re at the bargaining table, for sure.”
Those who work inside city hall, such as departments including city payment services and front-line facility staff, are the ones majorly affected.
Stelmaschuk believes the strike is making some impact because city hall, the Alfred Jenkins Field House and all city-run facilities are missing front-line employees.
“City hall is completely different this week, because a lot of the people at the front line, for instance those who you request information from, like fines, tickets, building permits and more, those people are out on the picket lines right now. The phones are answered by people who are not used to dealing with those kinds of calls,” Stelmaschuk said.
What the union is asking for will cost the city an additional $48,000. Stelmaschuk believes the city can handle it.
“Well, 12 per cent seems completely reasonable to us. One per cent isn’t that big of a deal. And as far as the beginning, it’s a four-year rollout — the beginning of our counteroffer, or our offer to settle, is the same. So, the one-per cent difference isn’t even for last year or this year, it’s $48,000 that they can budget for later,” Stelmaschuk said.
Kiley Bear, director of Prince Albert Corporate Services, says the city believes that 11.5 per cent is the best offer from the province and even from among Saskatchewan cities.
“It’s also one of the best offers in Canada right now. That’s a generous offer. And we would like to see the union get within that value and have those conversations. We are willing to talk to them about priorities within that,” Bear said.
Bear says the union is simply asking for too much, and giving more would impact taxpayers in the city.
“We very much value the work of our employees, but we also value the contribution that our community makes to the city of Prince Albert to pay these employees, keep these facilities open and run the city,” Bear said.
“It is a balance for us. We have to balance the needs of our employees against the needs of our community who pay for these services, and that’s what we’ve been doing. That’s what we’re committed to continue doing.”
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