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SRD ready for mediation, only if union commits to binding arbitration

Storm hockey parents also asking for resolution in Strathcona Gardens strike
Unionized workers at the Strathcona Gardens facility have been on strike since November. Photo by Marc Kitteringham / Campbell River Mirror

An offer to move forward to mediation in the Strathcona Gardens labour issue has hit another snag, as the two parties cannot agree on the terms of that mediation.

The United Steelworkers Local 1-1937 said in a press release that they reached out to the SRD to invite them back to the mediation table. According to a subsequent release from the regional district, “the SRD agrees with USW that mediation is the preferred way forward.” However, that is where things fall apart.

The regional district requested that during the mediation, staff at the facility return to work. They also asked for a commitment from USW that if an agreement is not possible, they move to binding arbitration.

“Proposing binding arbitration as a backup to mediation will ensure that the current labour dispute has a clear pathway to resolution and that USW does not return to strike action that further disrupts facility services and programs,” the SRD release says.

However, the USW is calling the SRD’s response “more gamesmanship,” and says that “the SRD knows full well that the union will not accept binding arbitration as they continue to stall a return to the bargaining table with the assist of a mediator.

“The SRD has nothing to lose in returning to mediation that is not binding, yet their continued addition of unworkable conditions, including a binding process and now the additional prerequisite of the union ending its strike, are unworkable.”

Binding arbitration is a process involving a neutral third party who hears the case and imposes a solution. The SRD proposed binding arbitration back in October, but the union has made it clear that they are unwilling to go through that process.

“We know that the SRD would refuse to move in mediation and would just push the negotiations into their originally proposed binding process; knowing full well they have room to move in order to get to a settlement,” said Shelley Siemens, USW spokesperson.

“The SRD negotiator’s conditions-laden response continues to keep the parties apart which is the opposite of what is needed to reach an agreement to resolve the strike,” she said. “The SRD needs to simply return to mediation as we continue to advocate. We feel there would be great value in resuming mediation, but instead, they continue to play games that affect a great many citizens of Campbell River.”

The strike has been ongoing since November, moving to full-time job action on Nov. 22. The strike has affected the various user groups of the facility, including the Campbell River Storm Junior hockey team. The Campbell River Storm Parent Group sent a letter to the SRD on Jan. 23 expressing their concerns about how the lack of local ice time has affected their kids and their potential futures in the sport.

“Every player on this team has devoted an immense amount of time and energy to get to this point in their hockey lives. Most aspire to play at a higher level: Junior A, College or University,” says the letter, which was posted on social media and sent to the Mirror. “Three hockey seasons have now been interrupted or canceled – team memories lost, scouting opportunities missed, talent identification camps postponed, and championships cancelled.

“Kids are paying the price for adult problems and this obstacle is having serious effect on their mental and physical wellness. It is holding them hostage and they are the collateral damage.”

The letter also discusses the economic impact of supporting a hockey player at that level, especially for players who have relocated to Campbell River specifically to play for the Storm. It questions how the ongoing strike will affect the viability of the Storm team in general, asking “How loyal are the fans and supporters expected to be?”

Signatories include parents from the Strathcona Regional District area, as well as elsewhere in B.C., central Alberta, Manitoba and Washington.


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