by LAURA KEIL
After nearly a year of negotiations, the Village of McBride and the union representing seven employees will be sitting down to mediation.
The mediation comes on the heels of a positive strike vote on Feb 4th. Employees of the Village of McBride and the McBride Community Forest who are part of CLAC Local 501 voted strongly in favour of a strike, according to CLAC, the union that represents them.
Employees have not yet begun strike action. The positive vote allows the union to pursue mediation through the BC Labour Relations Board. The parties now have 20 days to finalize an agreement before the mediator makes a recommendation which could include strike action. Their first mediated meeting was Wednesday Feb 17th, which is past our press time.
Mayor Loranne Martin told the Goat in an interview Sunday that the Village has been at the table all along and trying to bargain. She herself is a union shop steward at her other job, and she says she has been through the process many times.
“It’s the most bizarre bargaining process I’ve ever seen,” Martin says of the negotiation, though she admits that her shop steward experience does not involve direct bargaining.
She says CLAC has tried to “circumvent” the bargaining process by suggesting the union bargaining committee meet directly with Mayor and Council (the employer) rather than the Council’s bargaining committee, represented by CAO Kelley Williams and Counc. Edee Tracy.
CLAC has alleged that the Village has not bargained in good faith. Audrey Wilkinson, who represents the Village employees on behalf of CLAC on the bargaining committee, says the employees have been “backed into a corner.”
“We offered to meet with the Mayor and Council because they’re the ones making the decisions,” she says.
Wilkinson says CLAC doesn’t strike easily.
“It’s not our ethos. We really believe in an interspaced approach where we come to the table and try to work out what works for all the parties involved.”
She says the Village adopted an uncompromising bargaining position without reasonable justification when CLAC suggested a new benefit plan provider which would have saved the Village money, something the Village turned down.
“If you’re a struggling community why would you not want to save your taxpayers money?”
Mayor Martin says the Village has been using their current benefit plan with the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) since the late 90s.
“I don’t know much about Green Shield,” Martin says. “It was looked into by our bargaining committee and presented to us, and we just decided that no, we’re going to stay with UBCM, it’s been good for this long and we’re not going to risk it.”
She adds the benefit plan doesn’t just affect the unionized employees but also the exempt staff who are not part of the union but receive Village benefits.
Mayor Martin says Village employees have already received a 1.5% yearly increase in wages over the past 3 years, though that contract expires this year.
Wilkinson says they are proposing a pay increase “but not an excessive one.”
“Actually they (the Village) had made an offer and we had accepted their offer but then they pulled the offer back,” Wilkinson says. “It’s not that we’re demanding anything; we’re trying to find a fair negotiated settlement.”
Mayor Martin said she doesn’t know anything about making an offer and neither did bargaining committee member Kelley Williams.
“I honestly don’t know what the heck she’s talking about.”
Martin says when you’re bargaining a first contract, you want to make that contract really solid ground, because everything stems from that first contract.
“You’ve got to remember we’re a community of 586 people… We have to be very careful when we do these things that they’re financially sound.”
CLAC says the Village has not made any meaningful proposals on wages and benefits and denied CLAC’s mediator-assisted proposals – something Mayor Martin refutes.
“I’m not too sure what she’s referring to in all honesty,” Mayor Martin says. “We’ve been at the table bargaining. There’s been stuff going back and forth.”
CLAC also alleges that the Village “attempted to unilaterally change the employment conditions of its employees, despite the fact that negotiations were in process, including reducing the amount of paid bereavement time.” CLAC says this is now the subject of an unfair labour practice now before the BC Labour Relations Board.
Mayor Martin says they also deny those allegations.
When asked if they tried to unilaterally change employment conditions during negotiations, she replied
“We’ve been trying to bargain. That’s what we’ve been trying to do.”
“Our intent is to go ahead and get a contract, that’s what we need to do.”