Exactly how a strike would affect the Town of Ponoka is still unclear but administration says it’s preparing a contingency plan.
In a press release, the town stated it has yet to receive official results, “…so any information that is being reported in the media has not been confirmed by the Labour Relations Board,” stated CAO Albert Flootman in the release.
This came despite a press release from the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) confirming the strike vote was approved.
For now, staff operations will continue as the union must first give 72-hours notice to the town, plus it triggers a 120-day window to take strike action. It’s expected – if an agreement is not made – staff will strike during Ponoka Stampede week.
One thing that does appear clear is that council is standing firm. “Council is 100 per cent unified in this negotiation,” said Mayor Rick Bonnett.
The biggest issue that appears to be affecting negotiations is the question of a signing bonus recommended by a mediator (see town strike story) to be paid in 2018 with $800 for full time employees, $400 for part time and $200 for casual – a lump sum of $32,000. Bonnett stated that council feels this agreement is fair considering the last agreement.
He said the 2014 to 2016 collective agreement worked out to about 11.5 per cent compounded over three years: 2014 saw four per cent, 2015 saw three per cent and 2016 saw 3.5 per cent increases.
In this more recent set of meetings, Bonnett claims the union missed negotiation deadlines, which added to the tension.
His hope is that a strike doesn’t happen. “If we have a strike period, it will affect operations negatively.”
For now, Bonnett suggests this is a good time for both parties to “cool off” as it has only been one day since the union voted. There does appear to be another option for the town, it could hire contract employees but it is unclear for how long.
Ponoka Stampede week
If town staff do vote to strike, how it will affect the busy Ponoka Stampede week isn’t fully clear either.
President Blair Vold said areas that he feels will be affected are in traffic control during the parade and also in getting access to the beer gardens at the Ponoka Culture and Recreation Complex, as well as some additional support in other areas of the town.
That being said, Vold feels confident it won’t affect Stampede operations. “We’ve got 700 volunteers that take their time off during the Stampede.”
He suggests if there is a strike, the Stampede Association will be able to make arrangements to manage the situation.
There are 62 union staff, which includes permanent, part time and casual employees, and there are 22 out of scope employees at the Town of Ponoka.
This story was corrected to clarify the signing bonus payout.