Cutting off benefits to striking workers and retirees latest salvo in Oakville strike

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Published November 7, 2023 at 11:19 am

oakville strike

Striking outside workers at the Town of Oakville have had their benefits taken away while on the picket lines, despite their union offering to foot the bill during the strike.

CUPE Local 136 President Pete Knafelc said benefits were removed Thursday morning as the 267 outside workers and facility operators walked off the job following less than fruitful talks that had been going on since April.

Knafelc said the Town also cut off benefits to retirees – something he called an “absolutely deplorable act” – with those benefits only being returned Monday.

“We had meaningful discussions about it and they decided to reinstate it,” he said.

The striking workers, however, have no benefits, which the 23-year veteran says will mean some “expensive prescriptions” will have to be paid for out of pocket.

The national union is allowed to cover the premiums under the collective agreement but the Town refused. “They’re being punitive,” Knafelc said.

The two sides are still a long way from reaching a deal and there are no talks scheduled, he added.

The union and Oakville’s negotiating team met on Friday afternoon and remained at the table until “the employer went home” at 1:30 in the morning. There were further discussions by email on the weekend, but the Town of Oakville declared an impasse on Sunday evening and ended discussions.

“We’re asking for dates. We’re asking for continued discussions. We’re hearing nothing but crickets,” Knafelc said.

The strike began on November 2 and is now in its sixth day, with health plan concessions, changes to working hours and wages – which the union believes has not kept up with inflation – at the core of the dispute.

The strike has shut down community facilities and cancelled programs and scheduled events from Oakville Blades junior hockey games to art festivals. Knafelc noted there are several major hockey tournaments scheduled for this weekend that will be cancelled if there is no agreement.

The Town, however, is “dragging its feet” on resuming negotiations, he said. “We’re willing to get back to the table and we’re willing to talk but the Town doesn’t seem to be interested in bargaining.”

The Town released a statement Tuesday morning saying the two sides made “significant progress” during the weekend talks and were able to come to an agreement on several key issues, “including a tentative agreement on wages” – subject to a resolution on other outstanding issues.

“Unfortunately, despite best efforts to negotiate a settlement that would end the strike, the parties have not been successful in closing the gap on a few matters in order to reach a deal that is fair to both employees and taxpayers.” 

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