Municipal employees take strike vote 

RMOW and union have talks planned for next week

A group of municipal employees are prepared to go on strike if the Resort Municipality of Whistler does not come to a contract agreement with their union soon.

The 29 employees, made up of bylaw officers, wastewater treatment employees and utilities employees, belong to the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 2010. In a unanimous vote on Monday night they approved strike action.

"We’re not anxious to strike, we’re anxious to get a collective agreement but we’ll see how it shakes down," said Robin Jones, CUPE National Representative. "If we can’t get an agreement I guess we’ll have to move on to serving strike notice."

The workers’ collective agreement expired almost two years ago. Since that time the union has been at the bargaining table, negotiating for a new agreement. But there are still roughly half a dozen issues that need to be worked out and Jones is not optimistic there will be agreement on some of those issues in the coming weeks.

Among other things, the union workers are looking for compensation for the high cost of living in Whistler through an allowance. Jones suggested a 30 per cent living allowance, although he said that number is negotiable.

He said the number should be around $4,000 per employee.

"We’ll negotiate what the rate will be but the bottom line is there must be a rate," he said, adding that he knows of two other companies in Whistler that give employees living allowances.

"It’s tough to recruit up here and we’re noticing that quite a bit in the water treatment plant. There’s always chronic vacancies and understaffing. We think it (the living allowance) would help attract people, keep trained people, in addition to making it a bit more affordable here."

At the same time he charges the municipality with trying to rollback benefits and eliminate set hours of work.

Kathy Wallace, general manager of human resources at the municipality, would not discuss the particulars of the negotiations, however she was confident the two sides would be able to come together.

"We were in negotiations and our last meetings were in December… (and) we were quite encouraged by the progress made at that point," she said. "It’s not unusual for some unions to take a strike vote as part of the bargaining process… So really it’s just part of the bargaining and we’re looking forward to our (upcoming) meetings."

The union and the municipality are set to meet twice next week.

"We’ll make a decision following that bargaining," said Jones. "If we’re still making some progress, we’d be interested in continuing bargaining of course. But if we reach a dead impasse we’ll have to review some of our other options."

Local 2010 negotiated its first collective agreement with the municipality in 1996. They have never gone on strike before.

The career firefighters are the only other municipal employees who are part of a union.

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