BLACK RIVER-MATHESON, Ont. – Municipal workers in Black River-Matheson, locked out of their jobs since August 11, are looking forward to October’s municipal elections, believing that the coming vote for mayor and councillors is an opportunity to restore respect for residents and the public services they rely on.
“By choosing to lock out township workers so close to elections on October 27, the mayor and councillors seem to want to make our lockout an election issue,” said Sonya Moffat, President of Local 1490 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
“We would welcome that debate, because we know that our position is reasonable and responsible. On the other hand, all signs from the employer point to an agenda for privatizing and contracting out public services in Black River-Matheson.”
One of the first indications was how quickly the lockout was announced; workers had given dates for further bargaining just before the news arrived.
“We knew the township’s negotiators wanted to change the shifts of eight public works employees and force four of our co-workers to work a Sunday-to-Wednesday week year-round. They also wanted to end the shift premium for weekend work,” said CUPE representative Jennifer Barnett.
“But we did the math: the current arrangement costs the taxpayers of Matheson $3,500 a year, total. What’s more, it ensures that there is always a full complement of staff in winter to clear roads in one shift after a storm, saving on overtime costs and the township has maximum flexibility for staffing.”
The employees were confident that their proposals were the most cost-effective for township taxpayers. By contrast, the employer’s proposal exposes the township to the potentially unlimited overtime bills, when extra workers have to be called in on their days off to clear the roads after a snow storm.
“It doesn’t make sense, unless you figure that next year the mayor and councillors want to use the excuse of an enormous overtime bill for the coming winter to privatize snow clearance in the township.”
Barnett points out that other communities, similar to Black River-Matheson in area size and road network, provide shift premiums for weekend workers.
Black River-Matheson has 300 kilometers of roads maintained by its public works employees.
“The employer’s proposal is not the norm in the municipal sector. In the absence of any negotiations, we’re left to speculate: are the mayor and councillors poor financial managers? Or is there another agenda, like privatization, at work?
“That is why we are looking forward to municipal elections. We believe it will help answer a lot of questions.”
For more information, contact:
Jennifer Barnett, CUPE National Representative, 705-845-9075
Mary Unan, CUPE Communications, 647-390-9839