Unionized Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) employees have voted in favour of supporting a three-month strike mandate.
A vote by secret ballot was held last Saturday and Monday, with 80 per cent of the 148 members who cast their ballots supporting the mandate. There are 253 bargaining unit employees, according to Local 466 president Scott Rush.
“So far, the SCRD has made little meaningful movement to address the union’s concerns, despite many bargaining sessions over the last two months,” said Rush in a release after the vote. “Unifor Local 466 members have had their say and this mandate should send a strong message to the SCRD to get serious about bargaining a fair collective agreement.”
The four-year collective agreement for Unifor Local 466 expired at the end of 2019. The last bargaining session was Dec. 18. The union executive urged its members to support the bargaining committee by voting in favour of the strike mandate.
Compensation, “improvements to occupational health and safety, protection from harassment, inappropriate use of casual employees, reasonable work schedules and domestic violence leave” were some of the bargaining points highlighted by the union’s release.
The union also claims the SCRD is “seeking to take back improvements negotiated during the last round of bargaining,” and “has yet to offer reasonable wage increases which would allow its employees to restore their loss of real income over the last several years or protect them from inflation during the term of the next collective agreement.”
Sechelt SCRD director Alton Toth said the decision to take the strike vote came “to much surprise” in his written summary of SCRD updates for the Jan. 15 Sechelt regular council meeting.
In response to the strike mandate, SCRD chair Lori Pratt wrote in a statement that during the last bargaining session, “the SCRD had tabled many proposals and counterproposals and we are awaiting the union’s responses. Negotiations are continuing and we are going to continue to work in good faith towards a fair outcome that will meet operational requirements in a fiscally responsible manner.”
Bargaining is set to reconvene on Jan. 24, with dates also set for Jan. 28 to 30. Unifor national representative Vincent Lukacs will also be in attendance.
Pratt said the SCRD is “looking forward to meeting with the union and hearing from them across the table as to their bargaining priorities” and “engaging in meaningful dialogue.”
Staff provide “excellent service,” she said, adding that many employees “have expressed their concern as to the impact that a strike would have upon them. We hope to be able to alleviate their fears and arrive at a fair, reasonable and mutually beneficial agreement in as timely a manner as possible.”
Written notice must be given 72 hours prior to a walkout, and the SCRD and union would need to negotiate which services are deemed essential and how many employees would work during job action or lockout.
A vote supporting a strike mandate gives the union permission to call a strike, though it does not necessitate job action. The strike mandate lasts for 90 days.
Rush said a strike vote hasn’t been called in at least 20 years. In 1999 employees were locked out for nine weeks.