In an effort to end a three-month labour dispute, Whistler’s municipal workers have sent their employer an offer to begin informal mediated negotiations.
“We think it’s important to open up the lines of communication,” says Robin Jones, chief negotiator for CUPE 2010. The resort municipality of Whistler has yet to accept the invitation.
“The concerns we have raised around affordability have resonated well in Whistler,” says Jones. “It’s something that all workers in Whistler face. We just want the municipality to come to terms with affordability for their workers.”
Whistler is Canada’s most expensive municipality. Over half of Whistler municipal workers cannot afford to live where they work. Meanwhile, the town’s managers and administrators are the highest paid in British Columbia. Their salaries range between 60 to 100 per cent higher than administrators in similar-sized communities across B.C.
CUPE 2010 members, who include by-law enforcement officers, water and wastewater treatment and utilities workers, are seeking a $4,000 living allowance. Many other employers operating in Whistler, including the Royal Bank and B.C. Hydro, already compensate their employees for the exorbitant cost of living in Whistler.
Many workers who can’t keep up with soaring property values are forced to quit, creating retention problems for the municipality. There is a 100 per cent employee turnover rate every two years in Whistler water, wastewater and by-law departments. The union has argued this instability is not only poor management but presents a public safety concern.
Pending employer agreement, mediation is expected to happen next week. CUPE 2010 launched a public campaign around affordability that included newspaper and radio ads, opinion pieces, public debates and presentations before taskforces and municipal council. The workers have been engaged in work-to-rule job action since February 2005 and have been without a contract since December 2002.