OPINION: Ponoka’s union fight a symptom of past work culture

Ponoka has seen a whirlwind of activity with the union fight and the sale of the Kinsmen Centre

Ponoka saw a whirlwind of events last week with all of them related directly to town issues.

First was the union vote approving a strike, which set off reactions and comments from residents and council, and then the sale of the Kinsmen Community Centre, which seemed to come out of nowhere despite negotiations ongoing for the last several years.

Oddly, enough, the two events, while appearing to be different issues are really intertwined in the town’s work culture.

To be clear, I don’t begrudge union staff their desire for the signing bonus that the union negotiated on. Everyone should be paid what they’re worth, and civic employees — especially those in Ponoka — tend to hear the worst from residents.

When it comes to speaking our minds, Albertans do it the best with outspoken, if not demanding and sometimes even rude comments being made to civic employees. So really, that bonus should pay for all the times employees get yelled at.

The payout that the town and union are locked on, a one time cost of $32,000, when one thinks about it is quite minimal. Indeed, by the time staff get the signing bonus, they’ll have potentially lost just under half of the bonus to taxes. So why the hard holdout from council?

What’s striking in this issue is the major disconnect between staff, council and even administration. It’s clear council is firm on its decision with the union, for now. It’s equally clear that the union won’t budge, also for now.

Despite these points in favour of town staff being paid what the union is asking, there is one area those seeking more money haven’t looked at: performance.

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) 2014 to 2016 collective agreement with the Town of Ponoka has 37 pages of points outlining employee rights, protections, wages, benefits, sick leave and more. One must commend the AUPE for its diligence in protecting its members.

Within that agreement, however, there is only one line that refers to annual performance evaluations. It’s way in the back of the document under Article 41: “All performance evaluation documents for members of the bargaining unit will be completed by employees of the town who are not members of the bargaining unit.”

Something tells me that had the union come to the table with a promise to bring improvements, or increase efficiencies that would save the town money, I argue that council would have voted in favour of the agreement.

If staff could show council where and how it intends to save the town money in terms of operations with outlined plans, this union strike would be a moot point.

How does this relate to the Kinsmen Community Centre sale? All one has to do is look at the budget related to the building over the last three years. Revenues: $25,000 each year with overages to be accounted for later on. Seriously, is that all we do with town buildings? Punch in the numbers and hope for the best it seems.

What I don’t see here is a plan to see that building make money.

Because the Kinsmen Community Centre has been operating at a loss, council voted in favour of the sale to unload costly infrastructure. I would too.

What appears to be a major miss in the Town of Ponoka work culture (this is an overall observation not directed at any one individual or department) is ways to improve and save the town money.

From the outside looking in, staff come in and do the work and collect a paycheque. There appears to be a culture of “do just enough” that permeates the entire organization. This has been going on for decades so I can understand it being a tough habit to break. Council it seems, has had enough.

Has anyone tried to actually create a plan of action to see the Kinsmen Community Centre, or any other department in the town, make money? Like a concrete marketing plan? If not, then I can understand why council would want to sell the community centre while declining the union proposal.

If there’s a way to reduce operational costs in any department, that’s like making money to me.

If town staff and department heads really want to get their money’s worth, they need to first look at a business plan with timelines, goals and outcomes, and then bring that to the table.

I would be in favour of giving town staff and directors a whole bunch of money if they could come up with solid plans that saved money.

If not, the rest is just semantics.

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