‘Why are we still here? We signed December 23,’ was the wording on a sign outside city hall Monday morning. Accompanying the sign were several CUPE workers who, despite signing a deal last week have been striking through the holidays.
Striking Castlegar civic workers have ratified a new collective agreement. The 35 members of CUPE Local 2262 voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday night to accept terms hammered out during two days of mediated talks with the city last week.
The new contract must still be ratified by City Council before the employees can end the strike and return to work. The workers have been out on the picket line since November 8 in the first civic labour dispute in Castlegar’s history.
When asked whether the city will sign the agreement Mayor Lawrence Chernoff said “It’s the council’s decision really. We thought we had a deal way back when, but CUPE turned it down. So it’s really council’s decision after all this time.”
While Chernoff can not speak for the council members he said, “You have to be hopeful and optimistic about it, that it will finally get ratified and we can get back to a somewhat normal situation.”
Chernoff said the deal has not been addressed by council yet due to holiday plans and councillors being outside of the city area, but come Wednesday (yesterday) everyone should be back.
The six-year agreement is retroactive to February 2013 and includes a 35 cent-per-hour increase for the first year followed by annual wage increases of 1.5 per cent in each of the next two years and two per cent a year in the final three years of the deal.
The agreement also includes language improvements to optical care, meal allowances and extended health. Letters of agreement address employer paid time for grievance investigation and a clearer definition of exempt staff and bargaining unit work.
As well, the two parties agree to take action on outstanding grievances and participation in a BC Labour Relations Board sponsored relationship enhancement program. CUPE National Representative Lori Sutherland says the new contract “helps lay the groundwork for a more productive and respectful workplace.”
CUPE Local 2262 president Leford Lafayette credits hard bargaining and “the incredible degree of constant support and solidarity from local union members and from the people of Castlegar. The generosity we have witnessed from our friends and neighbours is truly inspiring – especially at this time of year.”
Lafayette said members of the local “are now looking forward to returning to work and doing what we do best – serving the people of Castlegar and keeping the city clean, safe and running smoothly.
Lafayette said the strike was worth it.