Love was hardly in the air on Valentine’s Day at Gyro Park as close to 40 CUPE supporters braved the cold winter winds, protest signs in hand, to voice their discontent with Penticton council’s recent issuing of a request for proposals to privatize operations at the Penticton Community Centre.
The rally comes just days after CUPE local 608 — the chapter which represents workers at the city, including those whose positions would be eliminated should the centre be privatized — voted 91 per cent to authorize a strike if their leadership, set to resume stalled collective bargaining with the city next week, deems it necessary.
However, the event was not co-ordinated by local 608 but rather their colleagues from local 523, featuring speeches from South Okanagan Boundary Labour Council president Brent Voss and Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union president Kevin Epp, as well as community activist Brigid Kemp.
Epp said that there is a dichotomy between the word “community” (as in centre) and the word “business” (as in who will run PCC if it is privatized.)
“If we are looking to add profit to everything we do then we are not looking after people and we are not looking after the community,” he said to cheers.
Local 523 president and rally organizer Zoe Magnus said the event was more than just a demonstration of union solidarity.
“I am not impacted in any way in terms of job cuts, but I will certainly be impacted as a community member if our community centre is privatized,” said Magnus. “As a resident and a taxpayer in Penticton I think that it is absolutely essential that our public services remain public. I am very concerned about the potential loss of service and increase in costs to health and recreation programs if the city privatizes the community centre.”
Magnus said she is also worried about the ramifications that privatization could have on the Cleland Community Theatre.
“The community has not had access to that theatre since construction began, and mayor and council have still not given any indication to the community as to whether or not we will have access to that theatre (should privatization occur),” she said.
“As a resident of Penticton and a taxpayer, that is not satisfactory. We are talking about the use of a community asset, so they need to be upfront about what their intentions are.”
After the speeches while chanting: “Keep it public,” Magnus led the rally to City Hall and up into council chambers where council was settling into another installment of 2011 budget deliberations. There, each member of council was presented with a large cardboard Valentine heart.
“We want to wish them a happy Valentine’s Day with a Valentine’s message from the community,” Magnus said. “We love our publicly operated community centre and we want mayor and council to have a heart and keep the centre publicly operated.”
At the end of the meeting, Mayor Dan Ashton thanked those from the rally for coming.
“I want to thank the members of CUPE that are here in the audience,” said Ashton. “I want to thank you for the opportunity of bringing this forward … Your presence does not go unnoticed.
“(However), this isn’t going to get resolved in the council chambers. It is going to get resolved at the bargaining table. So let’s get to the table and hopefully this comes to fruition.”