With the strike of the city of Castlegar’s workers already approaching three weeks, concerns over who is providing essential services, how they will be done, and just what is considered essential, are rising.
Back in July, prior to the beginning of CUPE strike action in the form of an overtime ban in August and full scale strike action commencing November 8, the union and the city agreed on an essential services order.
The order was approved by the Labour Relations Board and was amended last week to include snow removal services.
The language of the agreement states, “The labour relations board designates the following facilities, productions and services as necessary or essential to prevent immediate and serious danger to the health, safety, or welfare of the residents of British Columbia.”
RCMP services are deemed essential, so two out of the three full time clerical positions at the detachment are being filled by the union employees. The payroll clerk is required to provide training for the purpose of generating the payroll.
The essential tasks will be performed by managers and exempt/excluded employees unless due to the size and nature of the work the city requires additional resources.
These services include sign repair, pump stations, flooding and backup issues, removal of road and street debris, tending to tree hazards, water system alarms, shutdowns or leaks, sewer system failures, mechanical maintenance to fire department and essential municipal vehicles and equipment and burials or internments.
Once an essential service need arises, all qualified non-union staff are immediately called in. In order to have the right to call in bargaining unit members, all qualified staff must be working 60 hours per week.
Local CUPE 2262 president Leford Lafayette stated, “The essential services order says that the employer is supposed to use their resources efficiently.”
When asked what would happen in the case of an emergency Lafayette explained, “The management would make a call to the local office and we would dispatch people accordingly… within the constraints of the essential services order.” So far, mechanics have been called out to do repairs and water treatment workers have been needed. The city is not allowed to contract out or use volunteers to do any jobs the CUPE members usually do. Currently, management is doing everything from clerical work and building inspections to burials.
With the beginning of the snowfall, the question of snow removal services is on the minds of many Castlegar residents.
The essential services levels were set by the Labour Relations Board in accordance to the city’s snow policy. Major arterials and access to schools, hospitals and emergency services are always essential. The trigger for the rest of the roads is 10 centimeters.
City staff is trying to provide services above the minimum essential level, but only have five staff qualified to operate the snow removal equipment. So far no bargaining unit members have been called in for snow removal.
Snow removal on sidewalks will not be done as City Bylaw 1120 requires property owners to remove snow and ice on the sidewalks adjoining their property.
Castlegar Chief Administrative Officer John Malcom explained, “Our goal, as always, is to maintain the health and safety of the residents of the city. At this point we have not asked for union help in terms of activities during the recent snow storm. If we continue to experience adverse weather conditions, then inevitably we will require the union workers to fulfill their obligations according to the essential services order.”