Gaëlle McNeil | CUPE Staff

When municipal workers at the City of Mount Pearl, Newfoundland and Labrador’s second-largest city, walked off the job in early July, they didn’t expect their job action would stretch out over the long hot summer. 

As the weeks went by, there was little relief at the bargaining table, but a whole lot was happening on the CUPE 2099 picket line. 

For younger members like Alyssa Broomfield, 26, going on strike was a real eye-opener with regards to how poorly management can behave during a labour dispute. But she was pleasantly surprised at the bonding experience she felt with her co-workers. 

“It has been rewarding to get to know the brothers and sisters at my local and to see how bonds of solidarity are created,” she said. 

Broomfield works as a lifeguard at the Mount Pearl recreation centre where she is one of about 45 lifeguards, most of whom are under 25 years of age. She said of the other 50 or so staff at the centre, most are also under 25. 

While many of these young workers are part-timers, Broomfield has been on staff with the city for seven years and was recently made permanent full-time. “I am one of the old hands!” she joked. 

But she pointed out that despite her 11 years of experience in aquatics, she doesn’t always feel respected by her employer. “As a young person, I feel that my thoughts and experience are constantly devalued by management. I feel undervalued and infantilized,” she said. 

She added that managers on the bargaining team are not paying attention to the issues faced by younger workers because they are considered “precarious”. “They are only interested in the people working in the yard who have been there for 20 or 25 years,” she said. 

Ryan O’Neill is 27 and works as a heavy equipment operator at the Mount Pearl depot. He operates a lawn mower in the summer and a plow in the winter. He started working for the city at 19 and is one of a handful of young workers at the depot. 

O’Neill doesn’t believe that new hires should be treated any differently than long-time employees. 

“I am a big benefits guy,” he said. “I deserve the same benefits as someone new that has just been hired. Everyone deserves what I have, now and in the future.” 

“We are committed to the residents of Mount Pearl, we always have been,” said CUPE 2099 President Ken Turner in an interview. “But right now, we have to protect our collective agreement. We won’t accept a contract that doesn’t provide the same rights and benefits for all workers.”

Maintaining equal benefits for new hires is one of the main issues that CUPE 2099 is fighting for in this bargaining round. The other main issue is a wage increase to keep up with the cost of living. 

This is O’Neill’s first labour dispute. “It has been hard, but it is not what I expected,” he said. “I love the solidarity. We have become very close, and we are really strong. I got to meet people from other departments that I might never otherwise have met.” 

O’Neill and Broomfield are great ambassadors for the next generation of workers at the City of Mount Pearl. They are strong in their belief that young workers deserve to have good working conditions and benefits, just as older workers did before them. They are fiercely committed to the fight for a fair agreement. 

“If someone hadn’t stood on a picket line for me, I wouldn’t have the benefits I have now,” said O’Neill. “Young people today are the future.” 

On September 20, 2022, the municipal workers voted in favour of ratifying a new collective agreement with the City of Mount Pearl, putting an end to an 11 week-long strike. “Our members are looking forward to getting back to serving the community they love,” said CUPE 2099 President Ken Turner.

CUPE 2099 represents more than 200 municipal workers who work in recreation services, administration, taxation and finance, road maintenance, water and sewage, facility maintenance, landscape maintenance, engineering, and planning. They were in collective bargaining with the city since March 2022.

Municipalities focus on equity in public services 

Last June, more than 2,000 delegates gathered in Regina, Saskatchewan to participate in person in the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ (FCM) hybrid annual conference. Among delegates were members of CUPE’s National Executive Board and CUPE staff who took the opportunity to have valuable conversations with mayors, city councillors and other municipal officials from all Canadian regions.  

CUPE also hosted a panel session titled “Municipal Funding – an Equity Lens” with panellists Cheryl Stadnichuk, Regina city councillor, Kemi Akapo, Peterborough city councillor, Simon Enoch, director of the Saskatchewan office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and Angella MacEwen, CUPE senior economist. National President Mark Hancock welcomed mayors and councillors from across the country to the session.

Moderator Aditya Rao, senior researcher at CUPE, set the stage asking about the impact of the last two years of economic disruption on municipal decision-making and how municipalities can meet residents’ needs in an equitable and sustainable way. Panellists engaged the audience with their stories of equity and public services in housing, transportation, child care, and climate action.  

They all stressed the importance of conducting community research by going to where people are at, especially marginalized communities, and speaking with them to understand their needs. This is critical in designing environmental policies that are equitable, affordable housing that effectively fights homelessness, publicly-funded child care centres that improve early learning standards, public transit that is accessible for persons with disabilities, newcomers and everyone else, and policies that fight racism and homophobia and build safe and inclusive communities.  

Panellists also highlighted that young people, just like the elderly, feel isolated in rural communities, so being creative in providing other transportation modes and attracting young workers into decent jobs is key – as the future of our municipal services lies in their hands.  

“CUPE is proud to have a big footprint in the municipal workforce in Canada, representing 150,000 workers in the municipal sector,” said Mark Hancock. With the FCM, we will keep pushing for better financial support for municipalities from higher levels of government.