City’s request stalls talks

Union says employer is circumventing the process

Bonnie Belec
Published on June 25, 2014
Employees from the City of St. John’s waterworks department work to rectify low water levels at the main water line at the intersection of Topsail Road and Dunn’s Road in Mount Pearl in June 2013. Negotiations have broken off between the city and its outside workers.
— Telegram file photo

Negotiations between the City of St. John’s and its outside workers have broken off after eight days of talks, The Telegram has learned.

In a letter delivered to The Tele­gram Tuesday afternoon, Ed White, the national representative for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 569, addresses an email sent to Service NL Minister Dan Crummell, who is also responsible for the Labour Relations Agency.

“I am writing in response to an email dated June 19, 2014 which was sent to you by the City of

St. John’s wherein the city requests a conciliation board to assist the parties to conclude a collective agreement,” White writes.

“CUPE Local 569 finds this request premature. It should be noted that the parties have met for eight days,” he stressed.

White said it should also be noted that on June 19 the union provided its sixth proposal package that demonstrated considerable movement, and within minutes of concluding that session the city filed its request for conciliation.

White wrote that from the union’s perspective it appears there was little, if any, consideration given to its position and that the city has an underlying strategy to get to a position of being able to lock out members of Local 569.

When contacted by The Tele­gram, White confirmed the city’s re­quest to the province.

He said negotiations are on hold  as a result.

“I guess it’s not normal in terms of requesting conciliation, generally speaking. Most of our files, the local union would request it, but in this case the employer did,” said White.

He wasn’t willing to discuss the possibility of workers being locked out.

“We know the city is anxious to get a deal and that is all I’m prepared to say on it at this point,” White said.

In the letter to Crummell, White contends the city’s strategy is circumventing the intent of the provisions of the Newfoundland and Labrador Labour Relations Act.

He states that one of the outstanding issues is the pension plan and the city has yet to put a proposal on the table in that regard.

A spokeswoman for the City of St. John’s said in an emailed statement a request for conciliation is a natural progression during deliberations.

“From the city’s perspective, this is a normal step to take when negotiations are not moving forward. We have used this conciliation service before and we find them to be  very effective. Our goal is certainly to avoid a strike or any other action which is why we feel the time is right to engage an independent third party,” the statement said.

A spokeswoman for Crummell’s office also confirmed the request from St. John’s as well as one from the City of Mount Pearl.

“We can confirm that conciliation requests have been received from the City of St. John’s and the City of Mount Pearl with respect to their renegotiation of their collective agreements with CUPE,” said the spokeswoman via email.

“Requests are made to the minister when assistance is needed in con­cluding a collective agreement. A con­ciliation officer has been appointed for Mount Pearl and we are processing the request for St. John’s.”

The spokeswoman said there is no set time for requesting conciliation and it varies from case to case.

No one could be reached from the City of Mount Pearl or for Local 2099.

White said while a request for conciliation so early by the employer is unusual, he doesn’t see it as a major obstacle.

“I don’t know if it does a whole lot either way,” he said.

“I don’t see it as being of any benefit at this point in time, but I don’t see it as being a major downside, either. I guess it’s a little bit different than the norm because the employer requested it, but hopefully it will lead to reaching a tentative agreement later this summer,” he said.

However, in his letter, White goes further, asking the minister not to put a conciliation board in place at this time.

“I believe the parties can still meet and possibly conclude a collective agreement without the assistance of a board,” he wrote.

Contracts for both unions are up June 30, 2014 and came into effect July 1, 2010.

When the contract was signed four years ago, White  said in a news release, “This tentative deal was achieved without using the conciliation process and the parties look forward to harmonious labour relations over the next four years.”

The city’s chief negotiator, Kevin Breen, said at the time, “Achieving an agreement without third party assistance is a great accomplishment for both sides and bodes well for our ongoing relationship. We all worked very hard at this. Both sides made hard compromises and all members of both teams made contributions. We look forward to the next four years.”