AUPE members attended the Ponoka town council meeting on May 10, hoping to voice their concerns during public forum about ongoing negotiations over their contracts, but weren’t permitted to speak.
Before public forum was opened, Mayor Kevin Ferguson stated the purpose of the forum was for residents to address specific concerns about their properties.
When a member of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) rose to speak, the mayor was apologetic, but denied them the opportunity.
“We do have to respect the bargaining process,” said Ferguson. “I know where you’re coming from and I feel it too.”
According to the AUPE, there are 60 town employees (40 full-time and 20 casual) who are AUPE members.
Negotiations have been ongoing for two-and-a-half years — AUPE says because the town has yet to present a proposal that was acceptable to over 50 per cent of affected union members.
The town’s latest proposal is offering the workers a five-year contract with two years of zero salary increases followed by three years with a one per cent pay raise.
AUPE called the offer “insulting” in a press release.
“What’s really disappointing, for me, is that members of the public, who are also employees for the Town of Ponoka, did not get the opportunity to address council as a whole to really put their concerns on the table,” said AUPE vice president Bonnie Gostola outside of council chambers after the meeting.
“We’re really concerned that bargaining is at a standstill,” she said.
“They’re only asking for a fair deal. They’re only asking for reasonable compensation for the work that they’ve done. It’s time to start respecting the employees that have kept this community running.”
The town employees who are union members include Public Works and town facilities staff.
Gostola added it’s disappointing that the mayor said to trust the process, but doesn’t seem to trust it enough to let the members give their comments to the council.
“These are also members of the community and I think that in public forum they should have the right to speak out to what they think the problem is with the bargaining process in this community.”
The next mediation date is scheduled for May 30.
“We do hope with the mediation that …. they’re able to come to an agreement that will work for all the employees,” said Gostola.
“Again, it’s about fair benefits and financial compensation that really does meet the standard of what other communities this size are paying their employees and just the respect that I think they’ve earned over the past two years.”
The employees who came to council added the process has been distressful and emotional.
“The Town of Ponoka continues to bargain in good faith with the union and we remain hopeful that we can work toward an acceptable agreement within the established bargaining process,” read a statement the town issued on May 10 regarding the current labour negotiations with AUPE.