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March 2, 2009

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CUPE 105 leads community to big win for Island residents

PORT CLEMENTS—Members of CUPE 105, workers who provide solid waste and recycling services on Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands), won a major victory when Skeena Queen Charlotte Regional District (SQCRD) directors voted to keep the service public.

“We wanted to make sure the community knew what was happening and understood the possible impact on services,” explains CUPE National representative Al Gallupe. “In the end, we’ve kept a vital service public, helped protect the environment, and ensured good value for taxpayers.”

The local acted quickly when they heard that the SQCRD was looking for tenders to privatize the Island’s recycling services and the landfill site after the excavator broke down and needed replacement. The collection system had suffered from problems due to years of underfunding, but although rates had been increased to properly fund the service, the SQCRD still decided to look at contracting out.

“For us the biggest thing was that the Island would have lost control of our garbage system,” says Thor Collinson, the lead hand who has worked at the landfill site for over 10 years, “Now it’ll be well run by people who understand and value this public service.”

The local’s persistent campaign included attending meetings of the SQCRD, talking to the public both face-to-face and through ads in the local papers and on local radio, as well as lobbying SQCRD directors. CUPE 105 members were joined by the Prince Rupert and District Labour Council and the public at a rally at SQRD headquarters in Prince Rupert. CUPE Research prepared a report with help from the National rep and the local. The report showed that privatizing the service would not save money in the long term.

The local newspaper credited CUPE’s role by noting that CUPE “had spoken out strongly against contracting out.” CUPE 105 garnered support from the public, environmentalists and labour in the region. At one point, a community group held a protest at the recycling plant and chained the gates shut. The Islands Waste Management Advisory Council, a citizens committee appointed by the SQCRD, were also very active in the campaign and strongly voiced the need to keep the service under Island control.

CUPE urged the SQCRD directors to keep the service public and hire an on-Island manager to improve the service. The directors voted on February 20 to do just that.

COPE 491

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