Accusations fly as negotiations stall

It seems that after months of hinting at pieces of their labour bargaining positions, all the while stating they do not want to negotiate in the media, the City of Penticton and the union which represents its workers have finally come to agree on something: It’s time to negotiate in the media.

  • Feb. 3, 2011 10:00 a.m.

It seems that after months of hinting at pieces of their labour bargaining positions, all the while stating they do not want to negotiate in the media, the City of Penticton and the union which represents its workers have finally come to agree on something: It’s time to negotiate in the media.

Both blame the other side for either stepping over the line or making misleading statements that necessitate clarification.

CUPE said the city is mistreating laid-off workers from the closed Penticton Community Centre by not ensuring them job security when the centre reopens after $23.3 million of renovations.

The city said they offered the union a proposal in August to give all the workers at the centre their jobs back with the same pay and seniority as long as new employees made less in a tiered system.

But CUPE’s provincial leader said the city stalled bargaining by demanding concessions before negotiations even began in mid-December, accusing the city of threatening workers with job-loss and the privatization of the PCC by issuing a request for proposals to do so.

Furthermore, Barry O’Neill said he believed council and the city are looking to bust the union and promised a dust-up should negotiations fail.

Privatization, asserted the union, has not worked in the best interests of the community at the South Okanagan Events Centre campus and it will not work at the PCC.

Mayor Dan Ashton hit back, calling O’Neill an outsider to Penticton and describing his comments as offensive.

Ashton said he wants all the PCC workers to come back to their jobs as things were before, but that because the economy has changed, along with the city’s ability to generate revenue, so too should the pay-structure for new employees at the city. The request for proposals was simply the city doing its due diligence, he added.

Ashton pointed to full-time lifeguard wages which top out at $24.27 (not $23.48 as reported) an hour plus an additional 39.75 per cent labour load. This would total, at 2,080 hours, an annual cost to the city of about $70,548.

However, CUPE supporters pointed out that only two lifeguards pull in that amount.

According to the city’s human resources manager Gillian Kenny, aquatic workers, after six months, make $22.80 an hour life-guarding and $23.48 an hour instructing, plus an extra 14 per cent an hour in lieu of benefits. In 2009, she said, the average guard worked about 1,250 hours under both wages.

Calling Ashton’s comments “inappropriate and provocative”, CUPE local president Patti Finch said the mayor is trying to provoke a dispute instead of dealing with the issue of privatization.

“This is really about public services for residents. The mayor’s statements are misleading at best,” said Finch. “What we will do is stand up for public services for Penticton residents. Our members live in this community and care deeply about it.”

Meanwhile, city CAO Annette Antoniak decided to show the city’s hand Wednesday, posting a facts sheet on the city’s website.

Antoniak said the city is employing cost-cutting measures to address a structural deficit that could have reached $1.7 million in 2011, approximately 50 per cent of which is increased costs associated with the expansion of the aquatic portion of the PCC.

“(The city) commonly undertakes public tender processes across civic departments,” she said. “Council estimates the city could save $400,000 per year by contracting with a private-sector operator to take over the operation of the PCC and aquatic facility.”

Antoniak said that as an alternative, council has authorized her to negotiate the August-offered contract where all current city employees keep their jobs at their current pay and benefits. In exchange, she said the city wants new labourer positions to start at $14 an hour; new lifeguards at $14.50 an hour; new RCMP guards at $18 an hour; and new outside workers to start at 85 per cent of the job rate, progressing to 100 per cent over time.

Antoniak said CUPE rejected the proposal on Jan. 27. The offer’s notice period expires on Feb. 11, she said, although the city has said after that it will “continue to bargain in good faith.”

Despite the city’s offer to meet at anytime, Antoniak said CUPE is not available for negotiations until Feb. 24 and 25. The deadline for the RFPs is Feb. 22, with a report to council expected before March 7.

Antoniak also noted the operating budget for the convention centre and the Memorial Arena was reduced by $147,000 annually when operated by the private sector, while management of the SOEC, community rink and Penticton Vees cost the city an additional $1.1 million a year.

city@pentictonwesternnews.com