SACKVILLE, N.B. – Contract talks have stalled once again between the town of Sackville and its unionized workers following another round of negotiations, this time with a provincially-appointed conciliator.
The impasse means a new collective agreement still remains out of reach for the 35 full-and part-time CUPE Local 1188 employees, said CUPE national representative Marcos Salib, despite both sides making a bit of headway in the most recent discussions.
Both parties claim they still want to return to the negotiating table to hammer out a deal – but a key issue related to seniority for non full-time workers remains a stumbling block in the discussions.
“It’s pretty much the main issue that’s standing in the way of a new collective agreement,” said Salib.
Salib said the town presented its “final offer” about three weeks ago during their talks with the conciliator. The union counter-offered, he claimed, making concessions on four of the six items still on the table. But Salib said the membership was not willing to back down on the seniority issue.
“We have given concessions in this round of bargaining . . . but that’s a pretty big one to give.”
He explains that the town wants to eliminate seniority as one of the required considerations when a part-time or temporary worker applies for a permanent position. But Salib points out that when an individual comes into a job on a temporary or part-time basis, and performs the duties and acquires experience in that position, as well as pays union dues and goes through the proper probationary period, then seniority should be recognized in those cases.
“They still have to be qualified for the job,” when applying for a position, he said.
Salib said the town has proposed a two-tier system, which would see the current temporary and part-time workers grandfathered in with seniority, but any new union employees coming in would not be covered. He said seniority issues are at the foundation of unions and those rights should not be taken away.
Salib claimed the town “wouldn’t even look” at the union’s counter-offer, saying “we’re pretty disappointed by that.” He said he hopes the employer will come back to the table to resume discussions and stressed that strike action is not yet being considered by the membership.
Town CAO Phil Handrahan confirmed the town did present a final offer to the union during the conciliation process and “at this point, we are waiting on a response from the membership.”
Mayor John Higham said council is fully aware of the ongoing deliberations and is supportive of the town’s position. He encouraged the union members to thoroughly review the most recent changes in the final offer that has been proposed, saying there has perhaps been some misunderstanding as to what is in the contract.
“We’d like to see things moving forward on this,” said Higham.
The town and CUPE, which has been without a collective agreement since Dec. 31, 2015, have been in talks for more than a year and have met more than a dozen times since last February in an attempt to reach an agreement. The union filed for conciliation this past November after talks reached an impasse. The parties met with the conciliator three times, trying to bring a resolution to the table.
Meanwhile, the municipal workers received support this week from several other CUPE locals, as they came together for a rally on Monday evening in front of town hall prior to town council’s monthly meeting. More than 70 union members and and supporters from Mount Allison University, the Drew Nursing Home, the Sackville hospital, and others, came out for the rally to show their solidarity to CUPE Local 1188, waving signs and banners reading “Seniority Matters.” They then crowded into council chambers for a silent protest during the first half-hour of the meeting.