Qualicum Beach town employees were back at work Friday morning after a surprise resolution to the five-week lockout.
As of last Tuesday talks had broken down, with the union taking management to a Labour Relations Board (LRB) bad faith hearing.
Town chief administrative officer Daniel Sailland said that while preparing for the hearing Friday, around 4:30 p.m. Thursday, “we were contacted by our solicitor who stated that the union is interested in settling the matter outside of the hearing, including the collective agreement.”
“The outcome of those negotiations was that we ended up receiving sufficient legal confirmation on all of the outstanding issues, including the IT position,” Sailland told The NEWS Friday.
“We have been working through the evening,” CUPE Local 401 President Blaine Gurrie e-mailed The NEWS at 9:30 p.m. Thursday with the day’s surprising conclusion. At 11:18 p.m. he e-mailed that “After a month of being locked out of their jobs, our Qualicum Beach workers are heading back to work Friday.”
“We are glad to be able to return to our focus of helping to make Qualicum Beach the great community it is,” he added in a statement.
“The town approved the same recommendations handed down by a provincial mediator and ratified by CUPE Local 401 members last week,” he wrote. “The new contract contains the modest two per cent per year wage increases we have insisted on since bargaining began.”
Sailland confirmed the deal includes nine per cent total increases, including two per cent per year for each of the first four years (retroactive to 2014) and one per cent for the final half year. Members will not receive a signing bonus.
“In reaching the new collective agreement, the town accepted that a last-minute demand for an exempted position was not part of the contract negotiations,” Gurrie said of the issue that became the last sticking point and almost brought the negotiators to the LRB hearing Friday.
But Sailland disagreed with Gurrie’s assessment of the IT position result.
He said that while the town plans to pursue issues with the LRB around what the mediator included in his recommendations, “Never-the-less those issues — including the IT position — have been resolved and we’re satisfied and have subsequently ratified it.”
He said they have an agreement to go back and sort out the IT position after the main agreement.
“Both sides have agreed that the issue will be dealt with through the labour board if the employer decides to proceed,” Gurrie said.
Sailland said that while it is difficult to describe the changes in the contract language, “the key benefits include no changes, the benefits to the employees remain the same, there’s no increase to the benefits, so that is a cost savings.”
He said management was also happy to get a cap on vacation days at 35 per year for new employees and 40 for existing ones, which will lead to long term savings.
“The result of the language changes gives us much better ability to manage the operations of the town, including the confirmed ability to have weekend work, because that is one — paying time and half or double time on weekends — just doesn’t make sense.”
The full details will be released when council rises to report at one of their regularly scheduled meetings on Sept. 14 or Oct. 5.
Sailland said that while they haven’t calculated it, the town likely saved $340-$500,000 in wages during the 34 day lockout.
He said that while it was a tough process, “We will clear those waters over time.”