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Two-tiered wages a sticking point in Matheson negotiations

14 municipal workers have been locked out by the township
CUPE Local 1490 members on the picket line on Monday (Oct. 16) after being locked out by the Township of Black River-Matheson.

A CUPE Local 1490 member is speaking out about the lockout in Black River-Matheson.

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

Today is the second day on the picket line for the 14 full-time municipal workers affected by the labour dispute.

While the two sides have reached agreements on some items, a two-tiered wage system is the sticking point right now.

Tom Pullen is a public works equipment operator for the municipality, as well as a union trustee and a member of the bargaining committee. He believes the situation could have been resolved before it got to this point.

“I think it's unfortunate definitely for the membership, but also for the residents of Black River-Matheson that their services are being stopped. We love our jobs. We love what we do and love helping people and love providing services,” he said.

Pullen said they don’t feel what the municipality is offering them is fair and that asking for a two-tier wage grid would divide those who are new and existing to the membership.

“Last time we negotiated for this, they got rid of the tiered system. They bargained it out, and now they want to bargain it back in,” he said.

There’s also unclarity in the wage grid that could end up impacting existing members, Pullen said.

“If they were to take a promotion, they would possibly end up not getting paid as much as they were in their job that they were before until going through that wage grid again,” he said.

While there are still some outstanding issues that need to be resolved, Pullen confirmed the union and the township came to an agreement regarding wages on Oct. 12, the last time the two negotiated.

Mayor Doug Bender said the township enhanced present employees' vacation accommodations to align with their needs and balanced all wage requirements necessary to come to an agreement. He also noted benefits and pension plans have been untouched during negotiations.

Bender said he hopes the union will realize the tiered system is a minor issue that benefits their members going forward.

“Right now we're offering our union employees a better wage settlement than the Town of Cochrane just settled with their employees after eight weeks of strike. Obviously, in a union situation or in wage negotiations, nobody's ever 100 per cent happy with everything,” he said.

“Obviously, there's trade-offs and right now, we feel that we've offered a very solid compensation proposal,” he said.

Bender said he “feels strongly that once all union members have the correct information in their hands, they’re going to realize that it's either time to return to the bargaining table to discuss this further, or to realize it's time to go back to work, which is where we really want them.”

“Our union people, we still consider them to be the backbone of our municipality. Myself and council, we struggled very hard. It was very difficult for us to decide to move forward with a lockout. But we had to make sure that we were ensuring the safety and the service levels of our municipality. And we felt that was the proper way to do it,” he said.

Pullen said everyone on the picket line on Monday (Oct. 16) was in good spirits.

“We're here for the right reasons and we're getting great public support. People would come by and see us and were honking their horns. I thought it was very, very, very strong support from the residents,” he said.

While Pullen said they want to come to an agreement as soon as possible to avoid a lengthy strike like the one that just ended in Cochrane, he said they’re willing to go as long as they have to to get what they believe is what they deserve.

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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