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Cowichan Valley’s CUPE municipal workers consider strike action

Workers without contract for almost a year
CUPE Local 358 members in the Cowichan Valley are considering strike action. (File photo)

CUPE Local 358 members in the Cowichan Valley are still without a contract after nearly a year of negotiations and bargaining with the Cowichan Valley Regional District, the City of Duncan, and the District of North Cowichan have all broken down.

The City of Duncan workers have voted 95 per cent in favour of strike action and a strike vote was planned for Nov. 9 with CVRD members.

The results of that vote were not known by press time.

Mediation through the Labour Relations Board is also scheduled for both the CVRD and the District of North Cowichan later this month.

CUPE national representative and lead negotiator Ian McLean said that while there has been considerable progress at all three bargaining tables, each unit still has one major outstanding issue they haven’t been able to reach agreement on.

“The government announced a reduction for Medical Services Plan premiums starting in 2018 which means employers will have a significant cost savings and we believe that money should continue to be dedicated to employees’ benefits,” he said. “CUPE 358 members are committed to their community and the services they provide and they want to continue to provide those services without interruption. Taking strike action is always a last resort and we plan to do everything we can to complete negotiations at the bargaining table.”

Peter de Verteuil, Duncan’s CAO, said the city believes it is premature for the union to be discussing the negotiations publicly, and would provide only one point of information at this time.

“During bargaining, the city has clarified that existing 100 per cent employer-paid CUPE contract benefit premiums have increased substantially for 2017 and 2018 and largely offset the proposed decrease to the MSP premiums, which are paid 100 per cent by the city,” he said.

“The city has proposed to share the MSP premiums savings if the union agrees to share the overall increases in benefit premiums. The city has, and strives to maintain, a very good working relationship with the union and with our employees, and we look forward to getting back to the bargaining table.”

Jon Lefebure, mayor of North Cowichan and chairman of the CVRD, said neither jurisdiction is releasing statements on the issue at this time.

“We’re in the midst of negotiations and may have a statement at a later date, but not right now,” he said.

Before taking any strike action, essential service levels would need to be negotiated and the union would have to serve 72-hour strike notice.

CUPE Local 358 has six units and represents approximately 400 local government and private sector workers in the Cowichan Valley.