Photo: City of St. Catharine’s CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikipedia
Amidst a long and frustrating round of bargaining, municipal employees represented by CUPE 150 and CUPE 157 delivered a strong mandate on Wednesday evening authorizing their leadership to call a strike if negotiations fail. CUPE 150 and 157 members voted 95 and 86 per cent in favour of strike action, respectively.

The two unions represent approximately 350 city staff who provide a broad range of services including community and recreation, urban forestry, infrastructure maintenance, and city planning.

The city workers say they are fighting for better compensation and maintaining the quality of public services. They have been without a contract since December 2021 and have been in negotiations with the city since February 2022.

“We love our jobs, and we love serving this community. But our members deserve to be able to afford to live where they work, and that has become much harder at a time of record inflation. The strike vote reflects the members’ frustration at being undervalued, and shows that we are determined to stand up for our rights,” said Pierre Parent, President of CUPE 150 and a water operator.

“We are working hard for our members to get the best deal possible for them, recognizing their hard work and dedication for the city of St. Catharines and its residents,” said Jason Trombetta, President of CUPE 157 who works as a construction inspector. 

Wages are a key issue at the table. The unions point out that even the St. Catharines’ municipal works director has acknowledged that the city’s facing a major retention problem stemming from uncompetitive compensation compared to other municipalities. And yet, they say, the city’s wage offer is underwhelming. According to the CUPE locals, both workplaces are losing experienced and well-trained workers, which can undermine the quality-of-service delivery.  

Lindsay Taylor, recording secretary for CUPE 157 and an employee in the municipal works department, said that she feels strongly about the need for investment in city services.

“I live, work and volunteer in St. Catharines,” she said. “I’m personally invested in the city and our services. And I want the city to invest in me and my co-workers, because the work that we do helps create a better community for us all.”

The two sides will resume negotiations on Friday, May 5, with the help of a conciliation officer appointed by the ministry of labour. Despite the long duration of bargaining, the unions are feeling positive going in with a strong strike mandate.

“The members have clearly expressed what they want,” Parent said. “Now it’s up to St. Catharines management to work with us and negotiate a fair contract. We are optimistic but are ready to take action to defend our rights.”