Ariel photo of the Welland Canal and surrounding areaRegion of Niagara’s municipal employees represented by CUPE 1287 have authorized their union to take strike action if a fair deal cannot be reached during ongoing negotiations.

The vote took place in a virtual meeting held last week in which 87% of members voted in favour of authorizing the union to take strike action. The union says that this is a precautionary move that does not mean a labour disruption will happen, but it shows that the members are serious about negotiating a fair deal. 

“Our goal has always been to negotiate a fair contract that allows us to continue providing high-quality public services to Niagara residents,” said Judy Murray, president of CUPE 1287 and a wastewater operations clerk. “We are not asking for much – we simply want the employer to prioritize employee well-being and workforce stability.” 

Murray explained that in the pandemic the Niagara municipal workforce were often asked to make sacrifices, including taking on jobs that they had no prior experience of, such as performing COVID-screening at senior homes, and aiding in the COVID vaccination program.  

“As municipal workers, we try our best to provide services that people rely on and we accept that our jobs entail some level of sacrifice,” Murray said. “But we also expect fair treatment from our employer. Unfortunately, we have endured a frustrating round of bargaining whereby the Niagara management team has failed to acknowledge our efforts, sacrifices and commitment.” 

One of the main points of contention during negotiations has been the burdensome payments union members have to make for Long-Term Disability insurance. For some members, paying for LTD amounts to 10 to 20 per cent of their pay cheques at a time of growing financial precarity. A union survey showed that 34 per cent of members have taken on additional employment to supplement their incomes. 

“The LTD insurance is very onerous. We are already struggling due to record inflation and continuing to shell out so much money will only make us more precarious. The income insecurity members are facing is also contributing to a recruitment and retention challenge, which potentially has consequences for the quality of public services as we lose experienced and committed workers to other employers,” Murray said. 

Murray said the union wants to find resolutions that are fair to the workers – as well as to the residents of Niagara Region.  

“Niagara workers and the residents have common goals. We all want high quality of public services. But that’s only possible by investing in the wellbeing of the people who deliver those services.”