John Aitken seen in Village Chambers during the inauguration of the new Council in December.
John Aitken seen in Village Chambers during the inauguration of the new Council in December.

By: Laura Keil

At a hearing before the BC Labour Relations Board on Tuesday, parties agreed that John Aitken, the working foreman for the Village of McBride, is to remain on the Village’s payroll until at least March 13, 2015, pending a decision by the Board regarding the unfair labour practice filed by the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC). The hearing is scheduled to start Feb. 19th-20th, 2015.

“I’m happy with the decision,” said Aitken in a CLAC news release. “It’s been a stressful time for me and my family, but I’m thankful for CLAC’s support, and it’s clear, now more than ever, that the employees of McBride need a union.”

Aitken alleges he was fired by the mayor during a phone call Jan. 24th after attending a CLAC information meeting the night before. Sections 5 and 6 of the BC Labour Code prohibit an employer from discharging, suspending, transferring, or otherwise disciplining employees because they seek to unionize.

Union and employer counsels will exchange submissions and present evidence on the matter at the BC Labour Relations Board Feb 19-20th.

CLAC spokesperson Ryan Bruce says after the hearing the Board will make its decision on the case.

In tandem with the unfair labour practice hearing is a hearing on the creation of a union for Village of McBride employees, which includes employees of the McBride Community Forest, a solely-owned subsidiary of the Village.

On the application for certification this week, Vice-Chair Jacquie de Aguayo ruled that CLAC had the requisite support and ordered a vote; all eligible employees of the Village of McBride and the McBride Community Forest Corporation will vote by mail-in ballot, CLAC reports. de Aguayo ruled the ballots are to be returned no later than Feb. 27th and the ballot box sealed pending the board’s decision on the unfair labour practice and the challenges to the composition of the bargaining unit.

The Mayor of McBride Loranne Martin had still not released a statement or returned our calls by presstime Tuesday about the alleged firing. Aitken alleges he was fired by Mayor Martin in a phone conversation Jan. 24th. He alleges that when she fired him, she told him she would later advise Council of her decision.

In an interview with the Goat, Aitken said he still has not received written notice of his termination.

Aitken said he and other Village staff met with CLAC to discuss forming a union because they were worried about job security with the new mayor and council.

He said things that made him fear for his job were the Village changing locks on Village buildings without alerting or including him.

“Things like this, being the Public Works foreman, goes through me,” he said. “I would have issued a PO for it, or put it out for tender.”

Aitken had worked for the Village for nearly three years, all as the head of Public Works. He was hired under the previous Mayor and Council.

Aitken said the biggest thing he wants is disclosure of the situation.

“The whole key issue was protection for the crew and myself,” Aitken said. “We’re happy with our wage; we’re happy with our benefits; we’re happy with our hours; it was just job protection.”

He said if he was doing something wrong he could see there being a job suspension pending an investigation.

“I’ve been in the workforce for 40 years now and I’ve never been fired and I’ve never been treated like that.”

McBride Councillor Sharon Reichert responded to public comments on Facebook last week saying “Nobody was fired for anything to do with unions.”

She went on to say: “We are not at all opposed to a union for that matter. Our own mayor belongs to a union. I realize some of you are unaware of the legalities surrounding us but we are not legally allowed to discuss labour issues. This has nothing to do with us not wanting to be open and transparent. We are obligated BY LAW to not discuss such matters.”

She added: “You are reacting to one side of a story, trying us in a court of public opinion on social media.”

In a news release last week, CLAC said by the end of their meeting with Village of McBride employees Jan 23rd “A very strong majority of employees were in favour of unionizing with CLAC.”

The statements made in this story have not been proven in court.