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Locked out workers in Matheson hoping for Christmas miracle

The union and municipality are sitting down to talk on Wednesday
CUPE Local 1490 members on the picket line on Monday (Oct. 16) after being locked out by the Township of Black River-Matheson.

After 59 days of being locked out, the CUPE Local 1490 bargaining committee is once again meeting with Black River-Matheson township tomorrow (Dec. 13) in hopes of striking a deal.

Fourteen full-time municipal workers who are CUPE Local 1490 members are affected by the labour dispute, which has seen them locked out by the municipality since mid-October. While the two sides have reached agreements on some items, a two-tiered wage system is still the union members’ main concern.

Tom Pullen, a public works equipment operator for the municipality, as well as a union trustee and a member of the bargaining committee, said he and another member spoke with the town’s CAO Chris Wray, ultimately leading to another meeting at the table.

“He was going into work when we were picketing and he took the time to actually talk to us and then he threw out this offer,” Pullen said.

Mayor Doug Bender said it's a great first step.

"The union had finally reached out to actually ask us to sit down and talk to them some more and that's the first we've heard from them basically, in eight weeks. So that's good," he said.

It’s uncertain what’s going to come of tomorrow’s meeting, Pullen said.

“I’m very hopeful that something positive will come out of it, but with how things have gone since we started bargaining, I definitely have my doubts. I think for them it's more about optics than it is to make genuine progress and come to a resolution,” he said.

“We're obviously going to take the opportunity to negotiate in good faith. Just our past experience makes me question the expectations that come out of tomorrow.”

Bender's feeling hopeful things will get resolved.

"I'm optimistic that our negotiating team has the ability and the tools to make something happen as long as the union is willing, and we'll see where that's at. It's a time of year where, where everybody is supposed to have a good time, not a bad time, so I'm hopeful it'll get resolved," he said.

Pullen emphasized that clarity is crucial if the township wants to negotiate a deal.

“They still can't even put out a clear proposal. I don't know what they're doing, like there's math that's wrong there. I don't know if they're reading it or if they're missing it or they don’t care and they’re just throwing stuff across the table just to say they just did,” he said.

“It's definitely got to get straightened out and cleared up. It would definitely be a lot easier if they would come to the table and negotiate and bargain back and forth. There's basically been zero bargaining and negotiating since day one. They pass papers across the table and as soon as you start trying to talk, they just shut it down.”

It would be a Christmas miracle if tomorrow’s meeting results in a deal, Pullen said.

“It'd definitely be nice to get back there for Christmas before the real bad weather shows up,” he said.

Marissa Lentz-McGrath, Local Journalism Initiative

About the Author: Marissa Lentz-McGrath, Local Journalism Initiative

Marissa Lentz-McGrath covers civic issues along the Highway 11 corridor under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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