The positions are close but the rhetoric is heating up in the Qualicum Beach labour dispute.
“The mayor’s a very good person… so he calls it ‘somewhat inaccurate.’ I call it a bald faced lie,” Coun. Neil Horner said of CUPE Local 401 Blaine Gurrie saying council isn’t offering anything new.
Mayor Teunis Westbroek said he and chief administrative officer Daniel Sailland met with Gurrie at the Qualicum Beach Inn on Aug. 4 with a new offer totalling eight per cent in increases over four and a half years, along with the existing $1,800 signing bonus and the addition of reduced Sunday staffing, which union members requested.
Westbroek and Sailland said they left the meeting optimistic that they had a compromise and staff would be back at work by the end of the week.
“I’m sure they’re telling you something different,” Gurre said of that meeting, agreeing he left thinking they had a tentative agreement, but things fell apart over a proposed “one and one” increase for 2014, the first year of the contract.
Gurre said he interpreted that as a one per cent increase in January and another one per cent bump in July, but council interpreted it as a one per cent increase in January, plus a July increase of just one per cent of the January increase.
Westbroek said the union’s two per cent annual wage increase demand adds up to just over a million dollars for tax payers over the five-year contract, requiring a one per cent annual property tax increase.
“Council’s been doing backflips, we’re trying to resolve this,” said Horner. “We started at six per cent increase, then eight per cent, now we’ve gone to nine per cent increase. With the signing bonus… we started with $600 and Daniel came back asking for a mandate, we doubled it to $1,200, and then Daniel put his own job on the line and went above council’s mandate and tripled it to $1,800, which we agreed to after the fact.”
He said they also “had a deal where you can use your holiday days for the strike days, so they don’t lose a nickel, they lose a couple days off.”
“They started with the two per cent and they’re still there,” Westbroek said. “We’ve tried as a good Canadian compromise to work something out.”
“We did move on some other issues,” Gurre said of concessions on capping benefits and hours of work and that they started out asking for more than two per cent, but that is their bottom line since that’s what the Bank of Canada targets as the inflation rate for the next few years.
“The ball seems to be in their court — they took the keys and locked the door. I’m waiting for something from them now that says ‘we want to be conciliatory,’ not this path, it’s going to scar relations forever,” Gurre said.
“With a lockout in place it’s not very likely we’re going to move off of that (two per cent), it makes bargaining nearly impossible, it’s like being bullied into an agreement and that’s a really hard position to put anybody in.”
In a news release, Gurre called the council position “stubborn and short sighted,” leaving the union with no other option than to ramp up pressure.
“Our members are extremely upset by this lockout — they want to be out there working for the people of Qualicum Beach,” he said, adding that council is thanking them by “kicking them out of their jobs, (which) is disgraceful.”
Coun. Horner fired back.
“Everyone’s still out there in the rain and it’s not because of us. It’s because the union is playing dirty, they’re not bargaining in good faith,” said Horner.
“Maybe the people won’t like the deal, maybe they’ll vote against it. They should have that right to vote on what we came up with, but it wasn’t presented to them for a vote that we’re aware of.”
Westbroek said that while the union leadership seems stuck on the two per cent, other contracts have been negotiated around the province for less than that.
“From the public feedback we’ve been getting, people think it’s an extremely generous offer and some have said it’s too much, they’re not getting a two per cent increase in their pensions and so on.”
Of rumours that Horner had tried to go around the union leadership, Sailland said that council and exempt staff are allowed to talk to members about items that have already been tabled in negotiations and Horner was just sharing information when he spoke to two staff members at the Saturday farmers’ market.
Sailland added that some of the exempt staff have been followed around town to meetings and work covering essential services like garbage collection.
He said this was technically legal, but there have been concerns about traffic safety with a vehicle following a garbage truck, confusing cars behind them.
He said during a meeting of exempt staff at Eaglecrest, “our vehicle was filmed and photographed by two individuals… it looked like they were peering or trying to get into one of the vehicles so we walked out and asked if we could help them.”
Sailland said nothing more has come of that recently, but he and council are “committed to delivering essential services as set out under legislation and staff has a right to work in a harassment free environment.”
Like Gurre, Westbroek said “the ball is in their court,” and they hope the union will present the latest offer to the membership for a vote.
Both sides say they are open to continued negotiations, but that no formal talks are currently scheduled.