It appears that months of escalating conflict between the City of Penticton and its 178 unionized workers, which included the potential for a citywide strike and the privatization of the Penticton Community Centre, is over.
More than a year after their last contract expired, representatives from CUPE and the city reached a tentative collective agreement Sunday for all of the city’s union employees.
Currently, both sides will not discuss the details of the agreement until it has been ratified by both city council Wednesday and by CUPE local 608 members Thursday evening.
However, prior to resuming bargaining last Thursday, the city released its standing offer to CUPE that all current employees keep their jobs at their current pay and benefits or in lieu of benefits, percentages — including laid-off PCC aquatic staff — with a 2010 and 2011 wage freeze. And that new hires into positions for: labourers start at $14 an hour; lifeguards start at $14.50; RCMP guards start at $18; and outside positions start at 85 per cent of the job rate, progressing to 100 per cent over time, similar to the present system for inside positions.
The union’s two primary stumbling blocks for agreeing to that offer, said CUPE local president Patti Finch at the time, was over the top-out wage levels that new lifeguards, labourers or RCMP guards would be able to graduate to. And whether the laid-off PCC staff would retain their seniority which officially runs out this month, thus avoiding the need to reapply for their old jobs back with the presumably lower new wages.
City CAO Annette Antoniak said Monday she is absolutely pleased that she and her bargaining team were able to strike a deal.
“I think it showed a spirit of partnership from both sides,” said Antoniak, a little exhausted after a weekend-long burgeoning session to work out the various details of the agreement.
“Both sides wanted to get back to the table and always wanted to get a deal done. It was just a matter of being able to do that working together. That is a partnership I saw this weekend and that is why I believe we were able to reach this tentative agreement.”
Finch said she believes Antoniak earnestly wants to start to rebuild the city’s relationship with its staff.
“It has been very hard on everybody,” said Finch of the last 13 months of job layoffs, employee terminations, potential privatization and general uncertainty.
“But I think we have made a general agreement that both sides are going to work very hard together to try and bring the morale in the city back up and make people feel like they are appreciated again … And I believe Annette when she says the morale of the members that work for the city are very important to her. So we want to try to make some inroads once both sides hopefully ratify (the agreement) and move on to making the morale in the city go up.”
Finch said she hopes the jobs cuts are over as well — last year 30 union and management positions were eliminated.
“I not sure that that is going to be for sure but I’m thinking we won’t at least have anything drastic as what we have just dealt with,” she said. “I think that the city now knows too that the cuts were a little too deep, especially with the front-line staff. And we now have one of our cashiers back working on a year-long term and that sort of thing.
“We are all city workers and we need to be able to get together and solve the problems … I have to say that I feel a lot better after the last few days sitting with Annette that she is committed. I think both sides are committed to doing that.”