BURNABY – CUPE President Paul Moist called on the United Church to “do the right thing” and negotiate with striking CUPE workers at its Naramata Centre. The national leader of the 627,000-member Canadian Union of Public Employees rallied with dozens of strike supporters outside the United Church’s Burnaby offices Monday morning.
The 30 CUPE Local 608 members at Naramata Centre, which is owned by the United Church of Canada, have been on strike for three months following Centre attempts to lay off loyal staff and contract out their work. The Centre blames nagging financial problems, but has refused efforts by staff and CUPE to find ways to keep the facility operating.
Moist told the crowd the United Church must now step in and deal openly and fairly with Centre workers. “We will stand behind these workers until they have a fair collective agreement. We will outlast by one day any employer, any place in Canada, when they are trying to make our members take concessions and have their jobs contracted out.”
Moist reflected on the irony of having to deal with the United Church as an adversary rather than as a partner. “For 40 years we have joined with the United Church in coalitions and campaigns for social and economic justice, and to find the Church trying to treat workers this badly is quite frankly shocking.”
CUPE has represented Naramata Centre staff for the past 20 years and is one of the many unions in BC that has consistently used the retreat for union education activities and conferences.
CUPE BC President Mark Hancock said that all 85,000 CUPE members in BC stand with the workers in Naramata. “For years the labour movement has worked with the United Church and the Church has a tremendous record of supporting progressive causes and organizations. So while it is a little uncomfortable picketing an organization we otherwise support, we cannot stand by and watch this employer do this to our members.”
“These workers in Naramata need to know they aren’t alone,” said Jim Sinclair, president of the BC Federation of Labour. “Every unionized worker in BC stands with you—your fight is our fight, and we won’t rest until we win.”
Loyal Naramata employees, who have helped get it through tough times in the past, have been treated as the problem, instead of an important part of the solution to the Centre’s financial problems.
CUPE 608 member Colin Drought, who has worked for 20 years as a cook at Naramata, said that one of the reasons he and his wife decided to start a family together was the work he did at Naramata. “I love my job, and I don’t want it to be contracted out. We’re just asking to be treated fairly and be given a chance to continue contributing to a place we love.”
Moist will join CUPE 608 members on the picket line in Naramata today (Tuesday.)
View the CUPE BC gallery for photos of the rally.