‘I believe that we will win’: CUPE rallies outside city hall

Cornwall strikers wave placards a few steps away from the front doors of Cornwall city hall on Wednesday, May 23, 2018. The workers are with five CUPE locals, who have been without a contract since at least 2016. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

CORNWALL – Chanting various slogans and waving placards, hundreds of CUPE workers with the City of Cornwall demonstrated outside city hall this afternoon (Wednesday).

The noon hour rally also saw inside workers with Local 3251 join the picket line as they walked off the job just after midnight this morning.

“People rarely want to be on the picket line but here we are. We need a willing partner in the city to resolve this strike,” Pete Lebrun, president of CUPE 3251, representing 150 full-time workers as well as part-time, temporary and student workers. He urged residents to talk to their city councillor. “It is an election year, we know who not to vote for.”

“Library workers are fighting for wages. In Cornwall, we are among the lowest paid library workers in Ontario. That’s right. Lowest paid. That’s what the strike is about for us,” said Monique Branchaud, president of Local 3251-01, representing 28 members – half of whom are part time.

“Let us show them, you mess with one local you mess with us all,” said Kelly McKeegan, president of Local 234 for outside workers.

Hundreds of CUPE workers rally outside Cornwall city hall on Pitt Street on Wednesday, May 23, 2018. Around 550 full-time workers from five CUPE locals are on the picket line. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

Amanda Palieps, president of CUPE 5734, representing 40 part-time and 66 full-time SD&G paramedics, says the City of Cornwall is not willing to come back to the bargaining table. “We would like to be able to get back to work and be able to help these communities but our employer is not willing to talk and let that happen,” she said to a chorus of boos.

Palieps claims EMS workers are not “as respected or valued” as other Ontario paramedics. “Your paramedics are one of the lowest paid in the region and our part-time benefits are the lowest in the province.” She says concessions are the main reason paramedics are striking.

She says the city claims financial woes but cited a recent report showing a $6 million surplus last year and $40 million in reserves. “How can the city, who says they have financial woes, come up with a report like that?”

The rally also saw the union pull on some of its biggest and vocal resources like CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn.

CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn rallies the troops on the lawn between city hall and the Justice Building on Wednesday, May 23, 2018 during a noon hour rally. CUPE inside workers walked off the job this morning, joining four other locals who’ve been on strike for roughly a week. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

“We don’t go backwards in CUPE!” screamed Hahn as he hopped up and down on a picnic table outside the Justice Building. “You deserve respect for your work. Concessions. Trying to take workers backward is what this employer is trying to force,” Hahn screeched over horns, claps and cheers. He said other CUPE workers in Ontario have reached collective agreements with no concessions and Cornwall should be no different.

“There’s is only one way this will end and that’s when the city gets back to the bargaining table!”

Hahn concluded his speech by getting the workers to chant “I believe that we will win!”

At one point, a city pickup truck drove down Pitt Street, drawing a savage barrage of boos from the workers on the street.

The rally also had a political flavour as SDSG NDP candidate Marc Benoit also spoke. He said the city wouldn’t be in this situation if there was a government that wouldn’t download services on municipalities.

There was also members outside city hall to support CUPE, including CSU staff, Cornwall Mental Health Association, the Eastern Ontario Health Unit and OPSEU.

The City of Cornwall has been largely silent on the progress of negotiations. Although, it did make a statement last week, saying it has presented its final offer but the union “refused” to present it to its membership for a vote.