Watson Lake municipal employees go on strike

Watson Lake’s municipal employees are on strike. The town locked out its 22 employees this morning from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Watson Lake’s municipal employees are on strike.

The town locked out its 22 employees this morning from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Instead of going back to work once the lockout ended, the employees are now on strike, Yukon Employees Union president Steve Geick, said shortly after the strike began.

Had the employees chosen to go back to work after the lockout, they would have done so without a collective agreement. That means the town can arbitrarily impose conditions on employees.

“The members don’t feel safe going back to work,” Geick said. “They don’t trust the employer.”

In a letter to the union announcing the lockout, Watson Lake’s acting CAO Rick Rotondi said the town was planning some changes once employees came back to work.

The sections of the collective agreement that deal with grievances and arbitration were going to be repealed.

Changes would also have come for staff working in parks and recreation and protective services like bylaw. Details were to be provided once those employees came back to work.

Issues around work hours for some of those employees are a major stumbling block in the negotiations, Geick said.

The town wants to be able to shift the start time of some employees’ work day so they can work later or work weekends, Rotondi told the News.

“We just want to make sure that we can slide those (hours) … for certain jobs that are typically outside of that (nine-to-five) framework.”

Geick said the union needs more details around what those schedules would look like and how much employees would get paid for overtime or shift changes.

“They’re not giving us anything in terms of what the schedule would look like.”

The strike is the latest step in a dispute that has been going on for 10 months.

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 started in May 2016.

The employees met Feb. 1 of this year to give their union the authority to strike. Geick said the last time both sides met to negotiate was mid-February.

Rotondi said a strike is not what the town wanted.

“This is the path they’ve chosen and we will hopefully be able to negotiate in the near future and bring closure to this.”

He said the town wants to provide services “in an efficient, cost-effective manner.”

The Yukon’s Department of Community Services has confirmed that EMS and the volunteer fire department will continue running during the strike.

Both sides say it’s up to the other to set a time for the next round of negotiations.

Meanwhile, striking employees will earn approximately $102 a day during the strike. There’s also an emergency hardship fund for those who need it, Geick said.

According to the union, workers offered to accept binding arbitration but the town refused.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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