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Apples to apples, not oranges

Town employees in Holyrood fighting for wage increase, not satisfied with town’s offer

By Chris Lewis | Vol. 32 No. 47 (Feb. 6, 2020)

Town workers in Holyrood are on the hunt for a significant wage increase, but Mayor Gary Goobie says the town can’t afford to match it.

The15 town employees, ranging from inside to outside workers, are members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3768.

Collective bargaining started around the end of October 2019, according to union representative Ed White. After the talks were deemed unsuccessful, the negotiation was sent to conciliation around mid-December.

Mayor Goobie said the talks stalled over wages.

Goobie explained that, over a three-year period, members of CUPE Local 3768 were looking for an increase of 17 per cent.

“We came back and we offered 24 cents (per hour) in year one, 60 cents in year two, and in year three, two per cent,” said Goobie. “So, they started on the high end and we started on the low end. That’s standard practice as you try to bridge the gap and find a common ground. There was no response from the union, other than asking for conciliation. So, they put their offer on the table, which we thought was out of bounds for us, then we presented our offer. And that’s it, negotiations ended there.”

White said that what was offered by the Town was simply not up to par. In the second round of conciliation, the Town upped its offer from 4.5 per cent over three years, to 5.5 per cent.

“The employer made, what they phrased as a final offer,” said White. “We presented that to our membership. That was rejected, and we’ve since returned to conciliation … On the 31st of January, we received another offer that would increase the wage offer by 24 cents into the last year. Our members voted that down that afternoon.”

A strike vote was held Monday, with 85 per cent agreement to back a strike, if necessary.

When workers showed up at the Town Hall and the public works depot the following morning, they found themselves locked out.

Goobie said the time of year played a big role in the decision to lock out the employees, given the possibility of snow storms and breaks in the town’s water lines.

“We didn’t want to be caught,” said the mayor. “We have a responsibility to our residents to provide services under the circumstances. So, we have arrangements put in place in the event of a snowstorm, or anything really, that we could tap into these other companies to provide those necessary services. We didn’t want to wait for them to make their decision … We felt that the responsible thing to do as a council was to lock them out, so we could then make sure that services would continue to be provided in the best way possible given the circumstances. We were told that they were going to strike, so it was a matter of when and not if.”

White maintains the workers are underpaid compared with their colleagues in other towns.

“We’re not looking to necessarily catch up, but we want to close the gap,” White said. “For example, an equipment operator with the Town of Conception Bay South is currently at $28.83 per hour. Holyrood is currently at $24.37, and if the employer’s wage offer was accepted it would be $24.61.”

Goobie argued that comparing the wages of a town like Holyrood to one the size of Conception Bay South is not fair, given the operating budget of CBS comes in at over $30-million, while Holyrood’s is just over $4-million.

The mayor said if Holyrood’s wage scale was compared with similar sized towns it would be on par, if not a little higher.

For example, the Town of Botwood, with an operating budget of $3.47-million pays its heavy equipment operators approximately $25.55, with labourers earning $18.40, Goobie said.

To grant a 17 per cent increase, Goobie said, the town would have to take the money from other services, which would not be fair.

Goobie said another alternative would entail raising the mil rate for residential taxpayers, something he feels sure the majority of residents would not support.

While the lockout could potentially go on for some time, Goobie said, the Town is willing to sit and discuss the matter with the employees at any time to try and find a reasonable conclusion, adding council holds no ill will towards those experiencing the lockout and respects their right to take a strike vote.

“Eventually, we want to see this come to a successful conclusion. You’ve got to compare apples to apples, and not apples to oranges,” Goobie said.

In the meantime, town operations will continue using outside companies for some services, said Goobie, and the lock out will not have any detrimental effect on the day-to-day running of the town.

However, that may not be the case for the upcoming Crystal Carnival, he admitted, which relies on the cooperation of town workers in order for some events to go ahead.

Goobie said recreation director Steve Martin has been busy going over the various events planned for the 10-day winter festival. Although nothing is set in stone, he noted there is a possibility the lock out will have an effect on the schedule and that some of the events may need to be cancelled or altered in some way. But, the 2020 Crystal Carnival will go ahead, said the mayor.

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