The City of Kimberley has put out a press release in response to one from the United Steelworkers Local I-450 on Tuesday, which announced that two days of mediation with a Labour Relations Board mediator had failed.
The City, in its press release, issued by City CAO Scott Sommerville, said it will be applying to have some services designated essential during a potential labour dispute. If the Labour Relations Board designates them as essential, that means the City is required to provide them and the Union is required to allow its members to perform those services during a lockout or strike.
Sommerville says services that might be deemed essential would be Water and Wastewater Treatment, as well as RCMP Clerical.
Mayor Don McCormick said that in addition snow removal services would be included in the request.
The press release also for the first time offered some insight into the negotiations so far.
“There are many issues with the current job evaluation system, which has been in place since 2009,” it said.
“Council’s mandate for the negotiating team is to provide long-term viability for the City, reversing a trend of ever-increasing labour costs and declining investment in City infrastructure.
“The City remains committed to negotiating a mutually acceptable agreement that strikes a balance between our taxpayers’ ability to pay and a fair offer to our valued workforce.”
Jeff Bromley from the Steelworkers stated in Tuesday’s press release that the main factors for the union were the new hours of work language; training language for the operations yard; losing earned vacation and the elimination of the job evaluation system.
“The City’s management team, Mayor and Council are “demanding” that the unionized staff of Kimberley take concessions as a way to provide long-term viability. But nowhere do they mention the decisions they have made that our members have had no control over and that has cost thousands of dollars to the taxpayers of Kimberley. Now our members, the hard-working employees of the City of Kimberley are forced to pay the price,” the latest press release says.
“We withdrew hours of work,” Sommerville says. “We are not rolling back wages. We don’t want to take existing special vacations away, we were prepared to move on that. We are still open to bargaining. A couple of little concessions and we’ve got a deal.”
“The USW Bargaining Committee remains committed to stand ready to negotiate a fair collective agreement, however it’s our belief that the offers – or rather, concessions, are anything but fair,” said Bromley. “They want partners in trying to solve this problem, but do not want to treat us like one.”
The issues as presented in press releases from the City and the Steelworkers
“The City has offered a 4 per cent increase over 4 years to existing wages (based upon the current job evaluation system). The Union has demanded 3.5 per cent per year for the next three years. In order to reflect competitive market realities and to attract and retain employees, the City has offered additional wage increases to three positions key to driving revenues from new construction and to planning infrastructure renewal.
The Union has never “demanded” anything other that keeping what is already contained in the collective agreement. The Union’s opening proposal was 3.5 per cent but money has never been a stumbling block to getting a fair deal and the employer knows that. Not once has the topic of wages been mentioned as a hurdle to a new agreement. Not once during mediation was it even discussed.
From the Union
Currently the regular employees of the City of Kimberley that have completed five years of service are eligible for this benefit. However, regular employees of the Aquatic Center do not enjoy this benefit. The last position of the City in mediation was to “grandfather” current employees that receive special vacation. The Union countered to agree to that proposal however to adjust it to cover all current employees including Aquatic Center employees, the City did not agree.
From the City
“Despite the Union’s assertion that the employer did not change their position through the mediation process, the City withdrew their demand for new hours of work and was also willing to “grandfather” special vacation benefits, so that workers currently entitled to this benefit will not lose any vacation.
“The special vacation benefit consists of an extra 15 days of vacation for every five years of service, on top of the annual vacation entitlements. Special vacation was first bargained into the contract in 1981, when the City was competing with Cominco for workers. Extending this benefit to new workers is not financially sustainable for the City in the long-term.
“The Union is also demanding that both the special vacation and job evaluation system be extended to the Aquatic Centre staff. This will further increase the cost of operating the Aquatic Center, which is contrary to council’s recent efforts to reduce operational costs. $700,761 of the $957,358 this year’s Aquatic Centre (73%) budget is related to wages and benefits.
Just a bit of background on the job evaluation system; Sommerville explains that it is a specialized software system developed by the Steelworkers.
“Basically there is a pot of money for unionized workers,” he said. “The program scores all positions with 17 factors and rates them between 10 and 50. Management provides a score and so does the Union. Those scores are averaged. The program scores and compares positions. Some will score higher, others lower. Eventually it spits out a wage code and develops a wage for each department and wage code. There’s a multiplier for inside workers.”
Sommerville says the mandate given the city bargaining committee from Council was to get rid of the job evaluation system.
“One of the issues that has arisen with this job evaluation system is that departments are competing with each other over a finite amount of wage increases, with some departments better represented than others. Some departments have received wages that are out of touch with comparisons with wages in similar-sized municipalities, says the City press release..
Mayor Don McCormick says that this can create a problem.
“Certain jobs are way under the market rate and we don’t have the ability to pay more. The job evaluation program is responsible for the erratic comparison to market rate. The system compares jobs internally with no regard to market rate.”
The City’s assertion that program isn’t working for them is curious, because they agreed to the implementation of the program in 2006 and enshrined it in the collective agreement in 2009. The fact remains that they are the ones that “lost” the software and wiped clean the laptop with all the materials to implement the system. Prior to the current evaluation system, there was a predecessor evaluation system. There’s always been an evaluation system. However, when it is convenient for the City, they have no problem going outside the collective agreement and awarding a position a 18 per cent raise without blinking an eye. They want to do the same to two other positions. How is that a cost-effective measure?”