Watson Lake municipal employees back to work

Municipal workers in Watson Lake are back on the job after a week-long strike.

Municipal workers in Watson Lake are back on the job after a week-long strike.

Unionized workers ratified a new contract April 4.

The new three-year deal resolves a dispute about scheduling for protective services and parks and recreation workers. Both sides said scheduling was the major sticking point of the negotiations.

“The issue was that they wanted to be able to schedule workers Monday through Sunday,” said Steve Geick, president of the Yukon Employees Union. “We were in agreement with that all along but they wouldn’t tell us what that would look like or how far in advance that would be.”

Under the new agreement, the town can schedule these workers Monday through Sunday. A minimum of 10 days advance notice must be given to workers before the schedule changes occur. This means facilities like the town’s recreation centre will be open throughout the week.

“The recreation centre runs a lot of programs for youth, does a lot of great things for the community,” said Geick. “We understood that it should be open Monday through Sunday, but we needed some control and protection around that scheduling change.”

The agreement also mandates an organized review of management reporting practices, job descriptions and classifications by the town. This issue was supposed to be resolved in the last agreement, Geick said, and was not.

“There are time frames set up now for when these things are supposed to be completed.” Geick said. “Last time we took them at their word and that didn’t work out, so this became a sticking point.”

“There has been a commitment to review our departments,” said Rick Rotondi, Watson Lake’s acting chief administrative officer. Rotondi said the scheduling changes were requested by town council.

The new contract also includes a cost-of-living wage increase of two per cent for the first year and 1.5 per cent in each of the two following years.

The union’s last multi-year contract expired in December 2014. Both sides agreed to a one-year extension that expired in December 2015.

Talks began in May 2016, and the union was given the authority to strike Feb. 1. Employees continued to work under the one-year agreement while their new contract was being negotiated, until the town initiated a lockout on March 27. Workers officially went on strike the same day at 1 p.m.

Rotondi said the new contract is largely the same as what the town offered in February.

“Nobody wants to be on strike but we didn’t have much choice after the lockout,” Geick said. “I’m not really sure what they hoped to achieve with that.”

Geick said town resdients had been supportive of the workers, who are glad to be back on the job, Geick said.

“In the beginning I don’t think what was going on was really understood — this was never an issue of money,” Geick said. “During the strike, the amount of vehicles driving by, honking their horns, dropping off coffee, cookies, meals (to striking workers) was amazing to see, especially because, in small towns, things can get really heated really quickly.”

The strike saw the Northern Lights Centre and the recreation centre close. The Greyhound bus terminal and the landfill remained open but with limited hours and services. There was no garbage collection and the public works department’s after-hours phone line was shut down. These services have been reopened.

“We’re glad the strike is over and we’re hoping we can move together with the union to provide the services the community desires and needs,” said Rotondi.

Contact the Yukon News at editor@yukon-news.com.

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