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No end in sight for Matheson CUPE lockout

'It's been made very clear to the union that the ball is in their court,' says mayor

After 18 days, there is still no end in sight for the Black River-Matheson CUPE Local 1490 lockout.

The township and CUPE Local 1490 members have been negotiating a new contract since March and the parties were in legal position for a strike or lockout at 12:01 a.m. on Oct. 15., which ultimately resulted in a lockout situation.

A total of 14 full-time municipal workers are affected by the labour dispute and while the two sides have reached agreements on some items, a two-tiered wage system is still the union members’ main concern.

Mayor Doug Bender said the union has reached out since the lockout started to ask for some clarification.

“We provided all that information to them and never heard another word after that. It's been made very clear to the union that the ball is in their court. If they wish to talk that would be fine, but they haven't reached out to the municipality whatsoever,” he said.

Tom Pullen, a public works equipment operator for the municipality, as well as a union trustee and a member of the bargaining committee, said they’re still hoping for more clarity about the township’s offer.

“It's still unclear because when we asked at the table if this wage grid affects existing employees that are going for promotions. Say if you're at one pay rate, like a heavy equipment operator, and you want to move up, do have to go back to the starting grid to get to the starting of the wage grid. And there was no response. There's no clarity on that,” Pullen said.

“And then when they gave us this wage proposal, OK, you’ve got a bunch of wages in there, but there's no language on who it affects, who it doesn't affect, or anything like that. It just has the wages of what you would be making at the one stage. There's not a whole lot of dialogue.”

Everyone on the picket line is still in good spirits, Pullen said.

“We just want to get to the table, though. We're ready whenever they are to see if we can figure this out. But everybody's happy and good and we're here to do what we need to do,” he said.

“But it's unfortunate that the community has to suffer the way they have been. They're not getting the services that we provide and love to do and it's really too bad just over something so little.”

Even though there is a labour disruption, Bender said they’re going to do their best to maintain service levels.

“As much as the union may not like it, we have a responsibility to provide essential services to the community. And during this time until this has settled, we've actually engaged contractors to look after snow removal and road maintenance as well as water and sewer maintenance and any other services that are required to reduce and mitigate risks to the municipality and to ensure the taxpayers have the services they require. So that has been ongoing and we're very, very close to having everything prepared for our winter season,” he said.

“That's our responsibility and our role in the municipality; to ensure that the services are maintained and retained. Even though there's a labour disruption, that has no bearing on our service requirements to our taxpayers.”

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Bender said his job is to represent residents across the municipality and not just a few.

“My role as mayor is to support not only our management, all of our staff, all of our employees, which, unfortunately, our unionized ones are sitting on a picket line right now, but that's a choice they've made,” he said.

Service impacts

As a result of the lockout, services including entrance permits, land use planning applications, use of arena ice surface and use of outdoor rinks are not available.

The water and wastewater systems will continue to be maintained by Ontario Clean Water Agency (OCWA), who will also supervise any emergency repair work that may be required. Garbage and recycling will be picked up by E360 on its regular schedule, and the landfills remain open.

The township office hours are reduced to 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Friday. For an emergency, residents should call 705-232-0519.

Marissa Lentz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Marissa Lentz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Marissa Lentz 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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