Deal on Oakville strike imminent? Two sides to meet Thursday night

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Published November 9, 2023 at 11:21 am

Oakville Town Hall

Oakville CAO Jane Clohecy has reached out to residents with a public message that the Town is “committed” to getting a deal done with its striking outside workers “so we can open our community centres and arenas and return to providing the programs and services you count on.”

Clohecy thanked the community for their “ongoing patience” during the strike – now in its second week – which has shut down community centres and cancelled events and programs throughout Oakville, and assured residents her negotiating team has been in “constant dialogue” with the union since November 3.

“I know it has not been easy,” she said, adding that she has received many calls and emails looking for information on bargaining progress. “I have also heard from many the frustration and inconvenience the CUPE 136 strike is causing for you and your families.”

Clohecy also shared some of the details of the Town’s offer to the union, which was rejected, including a 12.75 per cent wage increase over a four-year term, which “matches or exceeds any other comparable municipal outside worker offer in Ontario.”

Other incentives offered in the deal include a $750 lump sum payment in 2023; a new healthcare spending account benefit to complement the existing medical, drug, vision, and dental benefits plan; a “significantly improved” vacation package; the addition of a new compassionate care leave salary top-up benefit; and bump-ups to meal allowance, tool allowance, shift premiums, and medical note reimbursements.

In addition, Clohecy said, the Town withdrew its requests to add language that would amend future statutory holiday requirements and generic drugs.

“This entire offer,” Clohecy claimed, “surpasses any other comparable municipal outside worker collective agreement negotiated this year in Ontario.”

Clohecy believes the Town’s offer is “reasonable” and while there are still outstanding issues related to maintaining the current use of temporary employees in Recreation and Culture and 12-hour shifts for winter operations, “we believe these can be resolved.”

There are some union demands and refusals, she noted, that “would impact our ability to deliver service, remain fair to taxpayers and attract and retain staff.”

Clohecy cited CUPE 136’s desire to “significantly change the way standby duties are scheduled” as a stumbling block, noting the Town “must retain the ability to have our roads, traffic, and forestry teams on standby to respond quickly to significant weather events, like wind, ice, and snowstorms, for the safety of our residents.”

This requirement, she added, has always existed and is “critical to our ability to maintain service levels, response time and control costs.” To address union concerns about work-life balance for staff, the town proposed that the union allow seasonal CUPE 136 employees to take on standby duties as well.

The pay structure was also an issue, with Clohecy pointing out Ontario is facing labour shortages for certain skilled trades and attracting and retaining those workers “is a challenge” in specific circumstances. “We need the ability to adjust pay to be more competitive with market demands.

The Town also wants the power to provide limited vacation credit for new and existing employees based on relevant prior experience to attract and retain staff.

“We are strongly of the view that if we resolve these issues, the parties will reach a deal which will, in turn, end the strike,” she said.

CUPE Local 136 President Peter Knafelc is also optimistic, noting the two sides are “not far apart” on some issues, “which makes it perplexing as to why the Town of Oakville walked away from the bargaining table.”

The difference between the parties’ proposals on establishing a health care spending account was only about $70,000 total when the Town ended negotiations, he noted, adding that the employer’s insistence on a ‘vacation service date’ adjustment for new hires “failed to set out the circumstances in which new and existing employees would be entitled to this enhancement, and has not provided for the involvement of our union in this process.”

The employer’s proposal regarding market rates for some skilled trades jobs is “similarly lacking in detail” and the Town has “failed to provide a counter proposal” to address the union’s concerns on the issue or for the use of temporary employees for standby, Knafelc noted.

“What is clear is that the Town is not doing everything in its power to reach an agreement that will end the strike,” he said Tuesday. “We continue to call on them to return to the table and negotiate in good faith.

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

On Thursday, Clohecy, offered Knafelc and the union an olive branch and a date, leading to hopes the two sides can strike a deal before the weekend.

“Both the town and CUPE 136 want a deal and have our employees return to work,” Clohecy said. “We have confirmed that we will be meeting with the union at the bargaining table this evening and are hopeful for a speedy resolution.”

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