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Workers in Cochrane, Ont., go on strike; Sudbury outside workers could be next

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It's looking like the start of a tough summer for some municipalities as they try and reach an agreement with their workers.

In Cochrane, Monday marked Day 1 of a strike for CUPE Local 71 where 60 workers walked off the job.

"We looked at the communities around us and throughout Ontario and what is being offered is sub-par to what's in the region," said Lyne Nolet, president of CUPE Local 71.

"It is a very big disappointment, especially with the cost of living … Cochrane is a small community so we know everybody and it's hard to feed our families and be productive members of society if we can't have the funds to support ourselves."

Cochrane Mayor Peter Politis was unavailable for an on-camera interview but said on the phone that the town’s contract offer was a fair one.

He also said they also have to balance wage increases with the cost to the taxpayer.

"It is important to the town and council to continue our historical tendency of being fair with our workforce as demonstrated by the previous collective bargaining agreements over that last decade and a half leading to wage increases that outpaced inflation by 71 per cent and provide more statutory holidays than any other agreement in the region,” Politis said in a news release.

“They deserve that respect."

In Sudbury, an Aug. 9 deadline could see 500 employees, all members of CUPE local 4705, walk off the job.

The workers serve a variety of areas including water, wastewater and garbage. The union is calling on city council to return to the table sooner than their Aug. 15 council meeting.

It's looking like the start of a tough summer for some municipalities as they try and reach an agreement with their workers. In Cochrane, Monday marked Day 1 of a strike for CUPE Local 71 where 60 workers walked off the job. (Photo courtesy of Lyne Nolet)

The union wants councillors to meet before an important medication date Aug. 8 “to ensure that workers get a deal and to guarantee continued services without disruptions," said CUPE in a news release.

"It's very disappointing, I mean if they're the ones that are going to mandate this and make it part of the collective agreement, I would expect that they'd want to hear from us," CUPE Local 4705 president Bryan Keith told CTV.

“At this point unfortunately it's seems like they've made management the middle man so to speak and I think if they really wanted to solve this problem, the best solution would be to talk to us.”

Keith said it all comes down to scheduling. Water and wastewater employees have only ever had to work Monday to Friday in the community. Negotiations in 2019 allowed for extended hours, but with the caveat the city hire 12 new employees.

WEEKEND WORK

Keith said the city has never been able to fill that requirement and now wants everyone to work weekends, no matter their seniority.

"If you're five, 10, 15 years into the job and you never worked a weekend, why would you want to start now?" he said.

Kevin Fowke, city's general manager of consumer services, said there was no need for councillors to meet early since the direction they have received from council is clear.

"Unless there was to be a huge change in direction to re-engage with city council," Fowke said.

"Council provides the city's team with sort of an outside framework within which the team is authorized to accept proposals and obviously has certain desires to make sure we have a functioning local government that's sufficient as it can be and provides services of the day, time and week at the lowest possible cost.

“Those directions really haven't changed and they've really been understood by us since the beginning."

In the meantime, Fowke said planning has been underway for months to prepare for workers walking off the job.

"In June those preparations were completed to the 17-day period that we find ourselves in now,” he said.

“There's training going on this week so we can be prepared -- as an example to operate those water/wastewater plants -- but there are many other services that are critical, that need to continue and will continue in the event of a work stoppage.” 

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