The Penticton Community Centre came close to becoming privately operated, according to the city’s mayor.
Maintaining throughout the process that he would prefer to keep the unionized staff at the centre, Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton said Friday the prospect that city council would have awarded a five-year contract to run the PCC had CUPE local 608 not made cost-saving concessions in its recently approved collective agreement with the city was quite serious.
In fact, council’s in-camera vote to accept the agreement was not even unanimous, although Ashton would not divulge who was against it. The request for proposal for bids to operate the centre, he said, was no bluff.
“Absolutely not,” said Ashton of the process which produced two bids: one from a society and one from a private company. “In my opinion I think that CUPE realize that we were on a railroad track that was going to converge in the future.”
It is an assertion that CUPE local president Patti Finch did not deny.
“We went in to bargain a fair collective agreement for all of our employees and I think that having the request for proposal for the community centre, the RCMP guards and the bylaw officers was certainly a big help in accomplishing that,” said Finch. “Again, I just want to thank the public for stepping up to help us keep the community centre public.”
But the union did more than just rally public support; it held a 91 per cent vote to authorize a strike if their leadership deemed it necessary, a move Ashton said contributed to the city’s willingness to strike a deal.
“I’ll be frank,” said the mayor. “The City of Penticton could not afford a strike right now at all. There is enough issues in the community (without) throwing a strike at it … So, we made an agreement and we are getting those people back to work and I am glad to see them coming back to work.”
The new four-year agreement (starting from 2010) covers all of the city’s 178 unionized employees and will establish a different wage structure for new workers. New lifeguards will now make $18.50 an hour (plus a 68-cent an hour premium when instructing) down from the current $22.80 per hour. New labourers who currently make similar money will start at $18 hour and move up to $18.68, while new RCMP guards will start at $20 an hour, down from $24.79. The workers will also receive either benefits or a percent in lieu of them.
In addition, the agreement includes: a signing bonus of $300 in lieu of a wage increase for 2010; a wage increase for current employees of one per cent for 2011, 2012 and 2013; improvements to benefits and language; and an extension of seniority for all community centre employees laid off until the PCC’s reopening, expected in mid June.
Under the terms of the agreement, the city expects to achieve a savings of at least $394,000.
“(The contract) is a start to dealing with the structural deficit that we are faced with at the city,” said the city’s lead negotiator and CAO Annette Antoniak. “I’m viewing this in the long-term because we do have a structural deficit here, so in order for us to be able to deal with that I have to look at it from the point of view of what gets us there forecasting over the years and not just a one-time fix.
“The underlining recognition is that we had to look at efficiencies and that we couldn’t just accept this offer and then not deal with what is in front of us. So that was very clearly put at the table and there was an acceptance from both sides that we were going to move forward with that.”
Both Antoniak and Finch said that it is time for the two sides to start working together.
“Our members are ready to move on and hopefully get to better working conditions and relationship with the city,” Finch said. “They just want to get on with their jobs … and serve this community.”