Contract talks between the Niagara Parks Commission and the union representing its employees have broken down, with the Ontario Public Service Employees Union Local 217 calling for a strike vote early in the new year. OPSEU Local 217, which represents roughly 600 full-time and seasonal NPC employees, has been without a contract since Oct. 31, 2009.
A statement issued by staff representative and OPSEU negotiator Pati Habermann last Friday said the Parks Commission had tabled concession demands and filed for conciliation. The union announced it would hold a strike vote in early January. “Despite the best attempts of the bargaining team, the employer has refused to entertain any substantial union proposals. Citing ‘philosophical differences,’ the employer will not respond to issues such as job security, scheduling, seniority and hours of work, issues identified as being top priorities for employees,” Habermann said. “The employer’s position so far is to table concessions in layoff language, benefits scheduling, leaves and an attempt to introduce a two-tier wage system for seasonal members.”
A message to Local 217 from the union’s bargaining team clearly shows how far the sides are from reaching an agreement: “It is the unanimous opinion of your bargaining team that their proposals are a slap in a face that shows what we have been saying all along, the Niagara Parks Commission has no respect for the bargaining unit folks. They are clearly out of touch with the employees and do not care about your morale, only about their bottom line!”
NPC general manager John Kernahan issued a news release Monday, saying the commission had hoped to avoid these types of disputes by calling for both parties to meet in early August, prior to the expiry of the latest contract. “Unfortunately the union leadership was not available to begin these talks until November,” Kernahan said. “The parties have put forth considerable effort throughout a series of bargaining sessions and while progress has been made, there remain a number of key issues which continue to separate us. Ultimately, we believe conciliation is a necessary step to help move this process along with the goal of reaching a new agreement with our staff as soon as possible.”
Despite the application for conciliation, the commission has invited the OPSEU negotiating team to continue talks while waiting for the Ontario Ministry of Labour to appoint a conciliation officer. Habermann said she didn’t see any point in continued talking until a conciliator is appointed. “We bargained late into the night — we were ready to go all night — but they said they needed a third party,” Habermann said. “There’s not much point in talking until we have that person in place.”
This article was originally published here