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Privatization could be met with job action
The union that represents workers at the City of Penticton is considering a municipal strike if council privatizes operations at the Penticton Community Centre, according to the union’s provincial leader.
CUPE B.C. president Barry O’Neill was in Penticton Wednesday evening to meet with local members after the city’s announcement last week that a request for proposals had been issued to contract out all recreational services at the PCC.
“I would not have flown up here from Vancouver if I wasn’t concerned about some very significant job action that could result from this,” O’Neill told the Western News. “I am hoping that it doesn’t come to (a strike) but I would say from the flavour of the meeting we are not very far from that.”
O’Neill said negotiations between CUPE and city management, which began officially in mid-December, have stalled.
“Council can spin this however they want. They can say, ‘The union is greedy’ and all this other stuff, but we haven’t put a monetary proposal on the table yet,” said O’Neill. “We have not put one on the table (because) we cannot get over their concessions. You can’t bargain until people stop kicking you in the head.”
O’Neill said he believes the public will support the PCC’s workers in their efforts to keep the centre publicly run because the services they provide are world class, personable and invaluable to the community.
“You’ve got programs here for everybody. You’ve got them for seniors, for youth, for kids, for people with disabilities and for the general public, and they are going to eliminate that?” he said. “It doesn’t make sense.”
O’Neill also rejected the notion that the city could save money by privatizing the community centre while also maintaining the current quality of services.
“How do you square that with the fact that when (a private company) comes in they have to train the workers to the level the current workers are at; they have to maintain the facility; and they have to make a 30 per cent profit. Tell me the formula that gets you there while you are saving money,” he said.
“Something needs to go and it’s the services. Programs will get cut, employees will get less training and the services will not be at the same level.”
O’Neill suggested the city’s argument that issuing the request for proposals is simply the city doing its due diligence to get the centre up and running should negotiations fail is disingenuous.
“With all of these documents that I have read, it leads to one thing for me: this council and this mayor, and maybe it is their subordinates, they are out to bust this union in this town,” said O’Neill. “I say that with all confidence in the world. They are trying to bust this union. But they have come to the right place if they are coming to bust one because it is going to be more difficult than they might have ever imagined.
“I will not sit by idly, as the head of the largest union in British Columbia, while a local like this that has never created any troubles for this community and has only provided valuable public services is pushed around by a bunch of bullies. It ain’t going to happen soon and it ain’t going to happen in the long term. If they want to have this thing and they don’t want to co-operate, then they do so at their own peril, in my view. And that is not a threat, that’s a promise.”
Responding to O’Neill’s comments, Mayor Dan Ashton said council is not looking to bust the union.
“I have a lot of respect for Mr. O’Neill but this is nothing of the sort,” said Ashton, who promised an extensive response to O’Neill’s comments would be forthcoming.
“The mayor and council are elected to represent all the citizens of Penticton and what needs to be realized here is that the times have changed substantially for everybody.”