Union staff in Ponoka set to vote on potential strike

If approved, the strike would occur during Ponoka Stampede week

Union staff with the Town of Ponoka are going to a strike vote Wednesday night.

If approved, about 60 full time and part time staff would strike during the busiest time of the year, Ponoka Stampede week.

After a year and a half of contract negotiations with the town’s union — the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) — seeing no results, a strike vote will be held in an effort to force the town’s hand.

Ken Cutrell, negotiator for the AUPE, says it has been a long haul. “We’ve been bargaining with these guys for a year and a half.”

The negotiations went to a point where the town and AUPE brought in a mediator to help with the discussion.

More recently, the AUPE came up with what it feels is a reasonable offer, which was agreed on by town administration. “The deal we shook hands with was zero per cent for year one (2017), and at the date of signing…an $800 lump sum payment (for full time employees),” said Cutrell.

Part time staff would see a $400 lump sum payment and casual employees would receive $200. The lump sum payment would cost the town just over $32,000.

For the second year of the agreement, effective Jan. 1, 2018 staff would see a 1.95 per cent salary increase, which is the same amount that the town electrical staff received, says Cutrell.

This was a formula based on the cost of living, he added. The third year would see an increase of 1.75 per cent salary increase. The agreement would end Dec. 31, 2019.

Included in the proposal was a loosening up of individual $500 health spending accounts to have it be more flexible for health or physical care. On May 7, Cutrell says the town and union came up with the proposal and at the time, he was told by CAO Albert Flootman, he expected town council would approve the deal. It wasn’t.

Another area within the negotiations related to a severance package for staff, which Cutrell says was turned down by Mayor Rick Bonnett. The union wasn’t too pleased with that decision considering the mayor recently brought a notice of motion to council looking at the idea of severance for elected officials.

“I said that’s a slap in the face to us,” said Cutrell. “How dare he.”

Most recently, Cutrell said he was supposed to meet with Flootman but that meeting was cancelled. On Tuesday, Cutrell will meet with town staff to outline the next steps. If a strike vote is approved, all the union needs to do is give the town 72 hours notice before the strike. Stampede week is the time under consideration.

“Sometimes you have to say, enough is enough,” said Cutrell, adding that the intention from the start has been to come up with an agreement rather than strike.

When Bonnett was asked about the reason for the length of time in negotiations, the mayor said the AUPE has been dragging its feet. Despite that, Bonnett says he wants to see how staff votes on Wednesday.

He took issue with the AUPE speaking to his motion of severance, pointing out that with municipal salaries being taxed, he expects to pay another $6,000 in taxes because of it. The idea of a severance, which has not been voted on by council, is to balance the loss, says Bonnett.

Another area of negotiations was that the union wanted extra days off, said the mayor. “I’m not interested in that because that just makes us short.”

The mayor and Coun. Teri Underhill are on the human resources committee and they are the ones working on negotiations.

In speaking to Ponoka News, Sandra Smith, communications manager for the Town of Ponoka, said that administration is limited in what it can say.

She did, however, explain that all non-union staff and staff with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers did not take a pay raise for 2017.

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