On Wednesday March 10, CUPE 1115 and the City of Welland will meet with a provincially appointed conciliator in an attempt to negotiate a new collective agreement for 78 frontline workers, a move the union hopes will see the beginning of serious negotiations toward finding a deal.

“So far we haven’t seen any serious will to find a fair deal from the city. They’ve been asking for a lot of significant rollbacks, things they know we would never agree to, or walking away from the table instead of responding to our proposals,” said Steve Leavitt, representative for CUPE 1115. “They’re playing games at a time when the residents of Welland need to see some leadership. We expect that the involvement of the conciliator will bring a little more focus on getting a fair deal.”

CUPE 1115 represents inside workers for the city of Welland, including city planners, building inspectors, bylaw and parking enforcement officers, corporate services, recreation and culture, communications and marketing, engineering and public works staff. Their last collective agreement, a four-year deal, expired December 31, 2020.

The union believes the negotiations are a continuation of a pattern of disrespect that the city has shown to all frontline workers, not just CUPE 1115 members, since the COVID-19 pandemic started. “Frontline workers have been through a lot. When the pandemic hit there were layoffs throughout the city of Welland, while most other municipalities were retaining their staff. Now the city is saying that finances are in good shape, but their bargaining team is seeking major rollbacks from frontline workers without any justification,” Leavitt said. “We are in a pandemic here, people need jobs, residents need services. This is not the direction the city should be going in.”

CUPE 1115 held a strike mandate vote on February 17, in which 92 per cent of the members voted in favour of taking strike action if necessary. However, the union says this was a precautionary measure taken in response to the city’s negotiation tactics. CUPE 1115’s primary goal is to keep city services running by reaching a settlement at the bargaining table.

“I want to make one thing clear, we are not going into these negotiations with outrageous demands. We are in a pandemic here, the goal is to keep people working,” said Leavitt. “We are looking to get a fair deal that keeps vital city services running and we’re expecting that the city will show the same commitment to frontline workers and residents of Welland.”