Union comments rile mayor

Penticton’s mayor is angry with comments made by CUPE’s provincial president regarding operations at the city’s almost renovated community centre.

  • Feb. 1, 2011 8:00 p.m.

Penticton’s mayor is angry with comments made by CUPE’s provincial president regarding operations at the city’s almost renovated community centre.

Last week, Barry O’Neill told the Western News that the local CUPE chapter is upset and scared regarding the potential for privatization of operations at the Penticton Community Centre and its pool after the city issued a request for proposals to run its recreation department.

Promising “some very significant job action” if the city does award a contract to run the PCC, thus eliminating 14 full-time and 13 part-time CUPE positions, O’Neill said the city is holding PCC employees hostage at the negotiating table.

But Mayor Dan Ashton said it is the union that has stalled the bargaining process, refusing to negotiate concessions in exchange for a city offer which has been on the table since August to give every laid-off employee at the centre their job back grandfathered with the same wages and seniority they had before it was closed for renovations last March.

According to Ashton, CUPE’s negotiating team says it cannot schedule a meeting until late February despite the city’s offer to meet with them anytime: day, night or weekend.

“If we just had a nod from the other side of the table, they could have signed off on that deal right away and everybody’s jobs would be there,” he said.

“We have sat down and tried to negotiate to keep those workers employed … but in my opinion (the workers) are becoming pawns and they shouldn’t be pawns. They are human beings and they shouldn’t be treated like pawns. And that is what is taking place.”

The concessions, Ashton said, the city wants in return is that there be a tiered system where new employees do not make the same wage as ones that have been working for longer periods of time — which the city said already exists with other CUPE positions — and that the new employees top out at lower pay.

Ashton pointed to full-time aquatic worker wages, which after six months on the job pays $23.48 an hour plus an additional 39.75 per cent labour load cost including benefits, pension, holidays (three weeks), stat holidays, CPP and EI. At 2,080 hours a year, that is an annual salary of approximately $48,838, with an additional $19,413 labour load cost — for $68,251 in total.

“Mr. O’Neill can spin it or sugar coat it anyway he wishes, but that level of pay is not in the best interest of the city,” said Ashton. “Penticton is not going to be bullied into paying 20 per cent more than what other communities have to pay because Mr. O’Neill wants us to do that.

“Public-sector unions had better wake up to what is going on in the real world and address the issues that their compadres in the private-sector unions have already accepted to keep their people employed at the same rates.”

Ashton said by issuing the RFP the city is simply looking at all its options and alternatives, and that if council did decide to award a contract to privatize operations at the PCC there would be “an opportunity for an incredible amount of public input.”

“Council was elected to provide first-class services and facilities to this community in a fiscally responsible way,” said Ashton. “We are doing that and we are going through a process and we are trying to make the correct decision for all the people of Penticton.

“But neither council nor the citizens of Penticton are going to be bullied by an outsider coming in and telling us that for us to issue a (RFP), which are being done across the province everywhere, is not appropriate. To me that is offensive. It is offensive not only to the staff at the City of Penticton; it is offensive to council; and it is really offensive to our citizens.”