Mount Pearl City workers have been on strike since July 7, 2022. Their union, CUPE Local 2099, represents over 200 workers who are employed in a variety of areas ranging from recreation services, administration, taxation and finance, to road maintenance, water and sewage management, facilities maintenance, landscape maintenance, engineering, and planning.
According to the Union, the City is refusing to negotiate a fair collective agreement, after four months of bargaining. CUPE 2099 is now taking job action in the form of a strike in the hopes that the City will agree to more bargaining. Consequently, many city services, programs, events, and facilities are being impacted.
However, in a statement made on July 22, the City claims that “the Union remains unwilling to negotiate anything outside wages.” They explained further, “We have an obligation to residents and businesses to ensure that our ongoing operations are sustainable and within budget.”
Despite the City’s claim of openness and flexibility, 92 percent of city workers have voted in favour of continuing to strike. The Independent spoke with Ken Turner, President of CUPE Local 2099, the Mount Pearl municipal workers union, and asked about this statement made by the mayor. Turner asserted that it is “absolutely incorrect.”
“That is not a good statement to put out,” he continued, “we’ve been negotiating since March, we did come forward with proposals as with any negotiations, but we’ve since removed all proposals from the table, in an earnest effort to try to get to an agreement with the City. The City has held steadfast on their concessions, and will not remove, will not move. It’s actually the City that’s not negotiating. And that statement is unfair and inaccurate.”
According to Turner, the Union didn’t want to completely dispose of the current contract, but the City chose to do so against the Union’s wishes.
“This Union was quite prepared to just flip our contract and deal with the wages. And, you know, we’ve come through a lot in the last few years, we certainly did not need to go down this road of trying to tear apart a contract. The City certainly didn’t need to do that. But that’s the path they’ve chosen,” he lamented. “And we’re going to stand up and we’re going to fight for our members, we’re going to fight for members that are coming in and new employees. We’re not going to allow our contract to be torn apart. We were certainly willing to negotiate wages and carry on. But that’s not what the City wanted.”
The Independent spoke with a City of Mount Pearl correspondent about these claims from the Union. Their response was: “We have been in negotiations since March. During that time, the City has been actively engaged in going back and forth with multiple proposals. It would be a misrepresentation of the facts to suggest the City is not moving. Throughout the bargaining process, the City has consistently indicated that we are prepared to be flexible in our negotiating position.”
The Independent asked the City if they believe higher wages should be offered to workers considering the recent increase in the cost of living and the hardships of the pandemic. They responded, “The City of Mount Pearl has a competitive and attractive total compensation package. The proposal on the table is fair and maintains Mount Pearl’s position as an employer of choice. Our employees will continue to benefit from competitive wages, pension plan, severance entitlement, health and dental benefits, sick leave, annual leave days, and more.”
They declined to comment, however, when asked what changes the City would like to make to the Union contract.
Workers’ Action Network Joins CUPE 2099 on the Picket Line
The local organization, Workers’ Action Network, joined union members on the picket line, on Thursday, July 28th. Worker’s Action Network seeks to achieve decent work for all workers, through fair wages and benefits, in the spirit of worker solidarity. Workers’ Action Network also strives to support and educate workers on their rights in the workplace.
The Independent met up with CUPE 2099 members and the Worker’s Action Network on the picket line to discuss the strike in Mount Pearl, and workers’ rights more generally.
City Services Disrupted
Mount Pearl City workers have left their positions and duties to stand on the picket lines, which has meant that many city services have been disrupted, including sports programs and household waste collection. This has made some Mount Pearl residents and parents upset, blaming picketing workers for the loss of city services.
On July 7th, the city’s Mayor, Dave Aker made a statement about the labour disruption, where he said summer day camps and sports will continue, but the Glacier, Summit centre, and community centres will be closed. He also announced that recycling would be suspended, and garbage collection would continue but only on a bi-weekly basis.
In response to the residents’ complaints about the strike halting recreation programs and city events, Turner told The Independent he wishes to emphasize to the residents of Mount Pearl, “this is not what we wanted,” and that rather it is up to the mayor and city council to get programs running again, by returning to the bargaining table.
“We ask them to be patient, and try to support us by contacting counsel. We are residents of Mount Pearl, we live here. We work here. You know, we play here. Our kids are in the same programs. We don’t want this,” Turner said. “We want this to end but the City knew full well– we’ve embarked since March–they knew that if it came to us pulling our services, it would affect recreational facilities. So I would say it’s the council and the mayor and the City who have the absolute ability to get us back to work and get our recreation facilities up and running. The Union doesn’t have that power. That power is in the City’s hands right now and they need to get us back to the table.”
The Independent also spoke with Mark Nichols, who was representing the Workers’ Action Network at the picket line. Asked what his thoughts were about the criticism against city workers’ striking and halting recreation programs, Nichols responded, “the only power a worker has at the end of the day is to withhold their labour.”
Nichols explained, “The City had plenty of time to negotiate a contract with the workers that was satisfactory to the workers. And, you know, there’s usually a negotiating period before they go on strike. So, people might be upset, but that is what a worker’s power is, ultimately to withhold their labour. And that’s what this group of workers has done, and we fully support them in that decision.”
The Independent asked the city correspondent about the Union’s argument, that it is up to the City to move on negotiations so that recreation programs and other activities can continue normally. Their response was: “We acknowledge the impact that this labour disruption is having on our residents and businesses. As stewards of taxpayer dollars, it is our job to ensure that our ongoing operations remain sustainable and can be delivered within existing budgets. We believe this can be achieved. We appreciate the public’s patience as we work toward delivering the services of the City during this time.”
Claims of bullying and harassment
With the strike in its third week, the City released a statement on July 22nd regarding the ongoing disruption. The statement claims “There have been repeated instances of disrespectful behaviour that continue to go beyond legal picketing to bullying and intimidation. City managers, contracted workers, and staff with community groups have been followed, filmed, and physically confined while being ridiculed, taunted, and berated.”
The Independent asked Turner about these claims, and he explained that “Mayor Aker’s comments around this bullying and harassment completely detract from the issues at hand.”
He added, “We need to get back to the bargaining table to deal with those issues. Of course, we’ve been in constant contact with the RNC. They’ve been to our lines, they visited our members, they see what’s going on. If we had any issues, if there were any legal issues around our legal picket, then the executive or myself certainly would have heard about it. And the RNC doesn’t feel that we are outside any of the bounds of what we are doing in regards to illegal picketing.”
Turner emphasized how the accusations of bullying and harassment have negatively impacted picketers. “I think all the mayor’s comments do is detract,” he said, “they are inflammatory and they need to stop and maybe we should put some of that effort into getting back to the bargaining table and get this resolved.”
When The Independent asked Nichols if he has witnessed any bullying or harassment on the picket lines, he responded with a firm “Nope.”
“I’m not here every day” he clarified. “But, I have not heard any credible reports and the times that I’ve been here I’m not seeing the workers behave in any disrespectful way.”
When the Independent requested comment from the city correspondent about the claims, they referred to their previous statement: “The City of Mount Pearl takes matters related to our Respectful Workplace Policy very seriously, and to that end, issued a statement on these matters on July 22nd, 2022. We will not be commenting further at this time.”
A worker’s right to withhold their labour
As of August 9th, according to the City of Mount Pearl correspondent, “there has been no significant change” in the bargaining process with the Union.
Striking and standing firm at the picket lines is how Mount Pearl workers are fighting against unfair working conditions. After the hardships of the global pandemic, livable wages, sick leave and benefits have become even more crucial for the well-being of workers. For CUPE 2099 and the Workers’ Action Network, the interruption in recreation activities and city services is the city council’s responsibility to end. Furthermore, city workers are also residents and striking has disrupted their lives too, it was a last resort. Just like everyone else, they want things to return to normal.
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