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Last-minute snag means strike continues in Black River-Matheson


Negotiations in Black River-Matheson nearly led to a deal last week, with the resumption of bargaining talks, where members of CUPE Local 1490 are still on strike.

Union leaders said a condition for a deal to end the six-month-old dispute was for all sides to cease legal action against each other, but that caused another stalemate.

In a news release last week, the township said it agreed to give unionized workers a 14 per cent pay bump over four years, a union-approved wage grid and better vacation time.

The parties seemed ready to sign -- until the union proposed a back-to-work protocol.

“It provides a protection, for all of our members going back to work, that there will be no reprisals for anything that arose during the lockout or strike,” said CUPE’s Serge Bouchard.

“It gives them at least a comfort, going back to work, not having to look over their shoulders and let’s just start moving forward.”

Bouchard said the protocol would also see both parties drop their legal actions against each other.

The union applied for a judicial review of the township’s conduct, claiming it violated Charter rights in February by banning CUPE members from town facilities.

Meanwhile, the township hired an investigator to determine whether union members have been displaying threatening and harmful behaviour.

Unwilling to call off the investigation, the town rejected the back-to-work protocol but stands by the settlement. It’s now appealing to the Ontario Labour Relations Board to order both parties to sign the deal.

Mayor Doug Bender released a statement that said members are welcome to return to work.

“We have also indicated that if the (Ontario Labour Relations Board) changes something on May 4, the township will act accordingly,” Bender said.

“There is now no good reason for the union to delay the return to work.”

But Bouchard said all issues should be cleared up first.

“We’ll save a pile of money on legal fees, on both sides, and it’s an avenue to start working together,” he said.

“Without this, they may try to terminate or discipline people for their involvement in the picket line and that’s just not something that we’re willing to subject our people to.”

In response, the township said the collective agreement already addresses reprisal and harassment of employees.

We attempted to reach Bender for further comment but he was unavailable and the town’s CAO did not respond.

Meantime, around a dozen members are still on strike. Three workers have crossed the picket line and are awaiting penalty from the union.

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