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November 19, 2014

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CUPE targets United Church for workers’ plight

NARAMATA –CUPE has filed an application to have the United Church and Naramata Centre recognized as a common employer.  The move comes as CUPE workers at the church’s retreat centre mark six months on the picket line.

CUPE National Servicing Representative Tom O’Leary says the union filed the application with the BC Labour Relations Board in a bid to bring the church to the bargaining table and take responsibility for its workers.  So far, the church has claimed that despite opening the centre as a designated church ministry and providing funding, it has no say in how the centre is run.  The retreat is one of four education centres owned by the United Church of Canada.

The strike by 30 unionized employees at Naramata Centre started after talks broke down in May and the centre tried to replace loyal, long-term staff with lower-paid, non-union positions.  A “business case” presented by the spiritual centre targeted food services, accommodation, facilities, housekeeping and grounds – the majority of the union bargaining unit’s work – for “outsourcing”.  

Speculation continues that the United Church wants to get rid of its union workforce at Naramata so it can more easily sell off the lakefront property – valued conservatively last year at around $6 million.  A 2013 report paid for by the church cites options including restructuring the centre’s mounting debt, refinancing or permanently closing and selling the centre.  Most of the programming at the centre has been cancelled since May.

“The United Church has the moral and fiscal responsibility and the resources to resolve this,” says O’Leary, adding  “The United Church has a long-held reputation for fighting for respect and rights for workers – principles that should certainly be applied to its own employees at Naramata.”

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