Unionized employees of the CVRD who work at the Comox Valley Sports and aquatics centres have voted in favour of a strike. The United Steelworkers Union Local 1-1937 employs 81 staff members at the facilities. The two parties have met several times since Jan. 29 to address amendments to the collective agreement that expired Jan. 31.
“The CVRD is committed to continue working towards a fair solution,” Jennifer Zbinden, senior manager of recreation facilities, said in a news release. “We want to ensure residents that the health and safety of staff and the community are of utmost importance.”
At the last meeting, the union says the CVRD “chose to come to the table with nothing” and without their head negotiator — leaving USW members with no choice but to vote in favour of a strike.
A mediator has been assigned to help reach a collective agreement. This ensures no strike action will occur while both parties are at the table.
Sports Centre/aquatics staff wages range from $15.75 to $26.87 per hour. The district says it’s been following the mandate provided by the CVRD Sports Commission with wage increases of two per cent per year for 2018, 2019 and 2020. But it says the union wants a 2.5 per cent increase for each year.
The union said the CVRD is proposing a percentage below the cost of living. Its bargaining committee has proposed language to address parity, and a large wage gap that exists between CVRD workers and those at neighboring facilities of the same industry. For instance, an employee with two jobs has commuted to a facility in another jurisdiction where they perform the same job, with the same certificates. However, according to the union, this person makes nearly $2.50 per hour more at the other facility doing the same job.
The USW says the committee has tried to address inequalities within the CVRD. Some workers have some benefits fully paid by the employer, but Sports Centre and pool employees have been paying 100 per cent for some of the same benefits.
The CVRD has proposed a wage review of positions “where lack of parity/equality was perceived.” It was to be completed over a three-year term with financial limits. It included representation from each department of USW membership and CVRD human resources to ensure accurate portrayal for all USW members. Last month, USW presented its process for a wage review which, the district claims, had no financial limits.
“Only bargaining team members would participate in its outcome, thereby not providing a clear representation of all USW membership,” the district states on its website.
According to the union, the proposed review suggests the district dictates who sits on the committee, and what information will be used to determine decisions.
“The USW members have already elected their bargaining committee, exercising their democratic right for who bargains on their behalf,” said Shelley Siemens, Local 1-1937 business agent. “The CVRD has indicated that they will not be paying retroactive pay for any wage enhancements, and during previous contract negotiations, the committee had used a similar wage and rate review agreement, and found that after 15 months the members received no retro pay for their enhancements.”
The USW also said the review contains other agenda items with clauses that allow the employer to change members’ job descriptions and certification expectations.
“We do not feel this is fair to have an employee who has posted to a job with the outlined expectations to later tell them that the rules have now changed in the middle of the game,” Siemens said.
While it strongly disagrees with many of the union’s claims, the CVRD says it will continue bargaining in good faith, which means working out issues with the mediator — not in the media.
“The appointment of a mediator provides an excellent opportunity for both parties to come back to the table and avoid a strike, which would negatively impact both our staff and our patrons,” a CVRD statement said. “Labour negotiations are never easy but we will continue to work towards an agreement that serves our employees and can be supported by the Comox Valley taxpayers.”
Recreation facilities will remain open and programs will continue throughout the mediation process.