‘We’re not willing to take a zero…period’: CUPE rallies over pace of negotiations

City workers with the Canadian Union of Public Employees demonstrate outside city hall Monday, Feb. 12, 2018 to pressure the city to step up the pace of negotiations. Talks between both sides for four union locals have been taking place since the fall of 2017. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

CORNWALL – “It’s extremely slow. I’ve been bargaining for over 17 years now and I’ve never seen it at this pace, ever.”

Those sentiments from Keith Sandford, national representative for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), as scores of city workers clustered on the sidewalk outside city hall Monday night.

After taking a hiatus in December and January, the placards were waving outside 360 Pitt Street. The workers are protesting how long negotiations are taking and other undisclosed issues.

In an interview with Cornwall Newswatch, Sandford said a wage freeze is still a cloud over negotiations.

“The zero’s still on the table so that’s a huge issue for us…plus there’s others,” he said.

But Sandford would not explain what were the so-called “barriers to settlement” that forced them to demonstrate again.

Even though the talks have been long, they have not led to any escalating action against the city, such as a strike vote.

“Nothing at this point, nope. We are starting to get prepared for that if necessary,” Sandford said.

All the union groups, except for members of CUPE Local 1792 at Glen-Stor-Dun Lodge, could strike to back contract demands (paramedics with CUPE 5734 can strike in limited numbers). The union locals representing inside and outside workers, librarians, paramedics and long term care home workers at the lodge.

Sandford was asked about the state of the city where every collective agreement – except for city police – has expired. Most of them expired in September 2016.

“I think that a lot of it’s got to do with the fact that they’re having all these lawyer issues and whatever with the taxes. CUPE’s family said to them, you’re not going to take your tax issue out on the backs of our workers. There’s tax issues you have to repay. That’s nobody’s fault here. We’re not willing to take a zero…period…on the backs of their mistakes,” Sandford said.

Sandford said CUPE was “ready to bargain” with the city back in 2016 and demonstrated outside city hall in September 2017 to force the city to the table.

“We could have exchanged proposals then (2016). That didn’t happen.”

The city met behind closed doors Monday evening to get an update from Human Resources Director Geoff Clarke on the state of negotiations.

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