Sackville municipal workers’ union asks for conciliation as talks with town reach standstill

sackville_town-hallWages, other monetary items and seniority appear to be some of the stumbling blocks in stalled labour negotiations between the Town of Sackville and its 34 unionized inside and outside workers.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) has asked the provincial government to appoint a conciliator after the union felt that negotiations had reached an impasse last month.

“We did not expect this much difficulty in reaching an agreement,” says Marcos Salib, the CUPE national representative involved in the negotiations.

He points out that the collective agreement expired on December 31, 2015, almost a year ago, and adds that it’s been difficult getting negotiating dates from the town. The 11 days of talks held so far were spread out over intervals of two or three months.

“We had a round [of bargaining] in September and we were certainly very clear with the employer, ‘Listen we want to get a deal done so hopefully when we have our next round, we should be able to conclude it,'” he says, adding that the talks reached a standstill after the town seemed unwilling to modify its proposals.

Seniority issue

Salib says one of the issues involves seniority for temporary workers in the CUPE bargaining unit. (Local 1188 consists of 27 full-time workers and seven part-time ones.)

He explains that the town wants to eliminate seniority as one of the required considerations when a temporary worker applies for a permanent position.

“Basically, sometimes people come in on a temporary basis, perform the duties of a job and then acquire experience and seniority, but they [the town] would not want that seniority to count at all for promotions or permanent positions,” he says.

“So somebody could do the job for two, three years and all of a sudden the job becomes available permanently, ‘Oops sorry, we’re deciding to pick an external applicant.'”

Town mum on talks

At last Monday’s town council meeting, Councillor Bill Evans presented a personnel report that gave little information about the negotiations other than to say: “Unfortunately, the Union has withdrawn from the negotiation table and has filed for conciliation with the Province. The Town remains hopeful that we  will be able to resume negotiations soon in [an] effort to reach a negotiated settlement.”

When Councillor Bruce Phinney asked for information about the main issues at the bargaining table, Evans responded that town staff had discussed those issues with councillors at a private, in-camera meeting that Phinney did not attend.

When Phinney said, “I’m asking now,” Evans seemed exasperated, saying that perhaps Phinney could ask him the question at an in-camera meeting.

Later, in response to a reporter’s question about which outstanding issues led the union to ask for help from a conciliator, CAO Phil Handrahan said: “The parties are interested in settling through the labour relations process either at the table and/or conciliation as opposed to trying to negotiate through — with all due respect — the media and the public.”

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