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Prince Albert union ratification vote halted

CUPE 882 union halts a union vote that would have ended the city inside workers strike in Prince Albert.
CUPE 882 workers seen picketing outside of Prince Albert City Hall on Sept. 11.

PRINCE ALBERT - The Canadian Union of Public Employees has called a halt to the ratification vote that would have ended the city inside workers strike in Prince Albert.

A tentative deal had been announced on Sept. 27 to end the nearly two month long labour dispute, and union members were set to vote to ratify the deal late last week. But it hit a major road bump on Friday.

In a news release Saturday, the CUPE union stated that on Sept. 29, during negotiations around vote ratification and the framework of a potential plan to bring employees back to work, the City of Prince Albert’s negotiation team had alerted CUPE 882 “about a number of sweeping technological, structural, and organizational changes. The employer announced it intended to implement these changes immediately upon amreturn to work.”

The union claims that according to the Saskatchewan Employment Act, employers must give written notice to the bargaining agent and to the Minister of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety when proposing such an organizational or technological change.

“None of the proposed changes had been disclosed to the union prior to the Sept. 29th negotiations. As a result of this last-minute disclosure, the union felt it had no choice but to notify the employer that they would be halting the ratification vote and destroying the ballots already cast. We cannot in good faith have our members carry out the vote knowing that the employer withheld vital information.”

CUPE 882 is demanding the city return immediately to the bargaining table, along with the special mediator, Kristin Anderson. 

The City has issued its own statement, in which they noted that the single proposed change was regarding the creation of a call centre — something used during the strike, and information which the city says was shared with the union previously.

“We heard positive feedback from the public and administration about the efficiencies of addressing calls this way. The change includes relocating four clerk steno positions in City Hall to a central location within City Hall to continue to answer calls using a system that has been used by the City for two years,” said Kiley Bear, Director of Corporate Services, in a statement Friday.

“The proposed change has no impact on salaries, hours of work and no employment will be lost as a result of the change. It is simply moving four individuals to new desks at City Hall.”

The City of Prince Albert stated the change “does not meet the definition contained in the Saskatchewan Employment Act, nor does it constitute organizational change as defined in the legislation. Further, it does not violate the City’s collective agreement.”

“They are once again demanding that the employer return to the bargaining table,” said Kevin Yates, HR Manager for the City of Prince Albert in a statement. “Their option, if they objected, would be to file at the Labour Board.”

“We are dismayed by the decision of the Union Executive,” said Bear in a news release. “Unfortunately, our employees are unable to return to work and are left to grapple with the last minute decision to destroy their ballots.”

A full walkout of inside city workers had been going on in Prince Albert since Sept. 11.

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