CASTLEGAR – Civic workers out on strike for a month say morale remains strong, despite the City’s refusal so far to restart talks.
The first-ever walkout by 34 members of CUPE Local 2262 has picket lines in place at Castlegar City Hall, the treatment plant, public works yard and rink. “We continue to reach out to the City to get back to the bargaining table,” says CUPE 2262 strike committee member Brad Ashton, adding that “the community has been very supportive and recognizes the need for city workers to stand up to the City on the outstanding issues of employee representation and job security.”
The union has been trying to get the City back to the bargaining table to reach a new agreement to replace the contract that expired in February 2013.
City Hall payroll clerk Jo Petit is a case in point. She says that after a month on the line, “we’re frustrated by the city’s refusal to talk, but we’re encouraged by the amount of community support. We get out there and people are honking and waving. We talk to people coming to City Hall and most respect our picket line – I think the secret to keeping our morale up is that we stay positive and we don’t bash, even though we have been frustrated by much of the misinformation put out by the city. ”
Petit adds that being on the line gives city workers a chance “to discuss our issues with people and remind them that we want to be back at work, especially at this time of year.”
Roads and Parks foreman Al Cawte agrees saying, “morale has been buoyed by tonnes of public support, not just in honks and waves but in friends and neighbours actually coming down to the picket lines and bringing us baked goods, coffee, soup - even firewood.” Other unions have also pitched in with donations and the Carpenters' Union even built us a warming hut.
Public support is key, says Cawte, “because we are a public-driven workforce. It lets us know we are on the right track, even though we want to be back at work doing the jobs we are trained to do and providing the public with the levels of service they are accustomed to.”
“What has to happen, I think, is that City Council has to realize that we need to be at the bargaining table to hammer out a deal – and that continued discussion could find us a solution.” The faster we can focus on productive talks and get back to work, the faster we can start working through our issues and repairing the relationship.”
Cawte has been working for the city for close to 25 years and says he never thought there would have to be a strike. “In the past we always managed to find enough common ground to settle – this time there was no last-minute deal.”