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Campbell River city CUPE workers file strike notice

The city’s unionized CUPE workers have served 72 hour strike notice.

Contract talks between the city of Campbell River and its CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) workers broke down earlier this week and on Tuesday, the union put the city on notice.

The two sides had appeared to be close to a deal and the city is now requesting the Labour Relations Board engage unionized employees in a vote on the city’s latest offer.

“We have come to a tentative agreement on almost all items except wage adjustments and the term of the agreement,” said City Manager Andy Laidlaw in a news release. “Given that the collective bargaining process has brought us so close to an agreement, even in respect to term and wage adjustments, we wanted to share the city’s last offer directly with employees affected.”

The city’s offer includes increases of two per cent in 2014, 1.5 per cent in 2015, 1.5 per cent in 2016 and two per cent in 2017 for a total of seven per cent over four years.

The first increase would be retroactive to January 1, 2014.

But Blaine Gurrie, president of CUPE Local 401, said the city is trying to dodge the bargaining process by forcing a vote.

“The place for negotiations is at the negotiating table and we feel strongly that this move will only further erode the respect we have been trying to build within the city,” Gurrie said in a release. “We expect to initiate a ban on overtime work, but we aren’t ruling out a full blown city-wide walkout to press for a negotiated settlement. The last thing we want to do is interrupt city services, but the city’s action has left us with no other choice.”

The city has asked the Labour Relations Board to arrange a last offer employee vote, with voting details and timing still to be determined.

“The timing of the vote is determined by Employment Standards, and we are hopeful that CUPE employees will be able to vote on a new agreement within the next week or so,” said Ron Bowles, the city’s general manager of corporate services.

Campbell River CUPE city staff have been without a contract since Dec. 31, 2013.

In the last round of bargaining, CUPE accepted a five per cent wage increase over four years that totalled $413,750 for 188 employees – 118 full-time, 30 part-time and 40 auxiliary.

While CUPE workers voted 88.3 per cent in favour of strike action during that round of bargaining, strike notice was never filed.

That’s not the case this year.

Gurrie said as part of the last contract, CUPE agreed to a zero per cent wage increase in the first year on the understanding that wages would be adjusted once the city was out of its financial difficulties.

He said now that the city has run successive surpluses, the union is asking for a two per cent increase per year which would be in line with settlements in neighbouring Vancouver Island communities and well below the Canadian average annual wage increase of three per cent. Gurrie said a two per cent increase would keep pace with inflation and anything less would equate to a cut in wages.

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