The City of Kimberley is currently in discussions with the United Steelworks union to agree on a new collective agreement between the two parties.
The collective agreement between the City of Kimberley and its unionized staff ended on Feb. 29 and the bargaining for a new collective agreement began on Mar. 8. According to Jeff Bromley, Financial Secretary and Business Agent of the United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1-405 Kootenays, “members proposals were not unreasonable and continue to be [reasonable].”
Collective agreement talks are ongoing as both sides are hoping to strike a balance. The four biggest issues between the parties are new hours of work, training language for the operations yard, earned vacation time and job evaluations.
The USW Local 1-405 is based in Cranbrook and represents over 1.200 workers in a variety of industries including sawmills, pole plants, banking and insurance services, hospitality and tourism, and municipal staff in the East and West Kootenay region. Positions that are affected by these negotiations are the unionized staff of the City of Kimberley. This includes workers in departments such as sanitation, roads, sewers, maintenance, water treatment plant, parks and recreation including the arenas and aquatic center, and City Hall’s administration. In total, approximately 100 full time, part time, seasonal and casual employees are represented by the USW and are affected by the collective agreement.
On July 13, Bromley said the Union held off on a 72-hour strike notice for JulyFest, an annual summer festival in Kimberley.
“We are meeting with our members early next week to determine the best course of action. Having pickets in front of a community celebration like JulyFest isn’t what we’re about,” he said. “Although, unfortunately, if there is a labour dispute and work stoppage, the members of the public are going to be affected.”
According to Bromley, the bargaining process always changes proposals but he is disappointed that the city has stopped negotiating with the Union.
“Both parties start out at one point and temper their proposals and issues until they come to an agreement,” he said. “The members do not want to lose earned vacation time nor do they want to lose the ability to have their jobs evaluated if they are changed or created by the employer. Both are very long-standing provisions in the collective agreement.”
Bromley believes that the employer is no longer negotiating and is stripping the Union members’ rights under the collective agreement.
The City of Kimberley stated in a press release that they have altered their demands to try to strike a balance with the Union.
“The City withdrew their demand for new hours of work and was also willing to ‘grandfather’ special vacation benefits, so that workers currently entitled to this benefit will not lose any vacation,” stated their press release, which also said the City has offered a four per cent increase over four years to existing wages based on the current job evaluation system.
Ahead of the mediation process, there was a 99 per cent strike vote.
“They’re upset and do not understand why the employer has to take these actions. It’s a small, tight-knit community and these actions are driving a wedge between friends and neighbours,” Bromley said. “They do not understand why management is taking this stance and they do not understand why the mayor and city council has chosen to endorse these actions.”
The City of Kimberley stated in the press release that, “The City remains committed to negotiating a mutually acceptable agreement that strikes a balance between our taxpayers’ ability to pay and a fair offer to our valued workforce.”
On July 13, the City of Kimberley applied to the Labour Relations Board for essential services in case of a labour distruption. If services are deemed essential, the Union is required to allow its members to perform those duties in the event of a strike.