Union members and officials with the township met Monday in an attempt to reach an agreement following council's decision to lockout employees. The union, which represents 17 full-time employees and five summer students, and the township have been negotiating to renew a collective agreement for the past couple of months.
Both parties have been in a legal strike and lockout position since July but it was Black River-Matheson council that decided to make the first move.
With negotiations at an impasse, council moved to lockout employees and hire contractors to maintain the township's services.
One of the main contentious issues is the rate of pay for work done over the weekend.
Jennifer Barnett, CUPE National Representative, said they walked into the bargaining table believing the matter of the amended hours of work would be dealt with later so the union and the township could move forward on other matters.
The township wants the ability to schedule work on weekends at a regular rate of pay rather than time and a half Saturdays and double time Sundays.
The union presented a settlement offer but the township refused stating in a media release on Tuesday that it â€œwas unacceptable to the employer as it did not in any way address the amended hours of work issue.â€
Barnett called the township completely unreasonable and dysfunctional. She said the employer won't budge on the amended hours issue.
â€œWe have to have a collective agreement,â€ she said. â€œWe have to move towards something but there was just no movement on their part. They keep talking about a seven-day-a-week operation with nine people. It's not possible. (The workers) are very disappointed. They went in there with high hopes that we could move pass this and carry on and that didn't happen.
â€œWe're very disappointed in the mayor and council. It seems like there's a lot of dysfunction at that level with respect to not being able to get along. They're preoccupied with their own thing.â€
Barnett believes that arbitration won't likely happen as the township has refused to continue to meet with a mediator. It's more likely that the union will have to bring in the Ministry of Labour, she said.
She clarified that locked out workers have the right to delay operations but not to prevent work from happening.
Black River-Matheson Mayor Mike Milinkovich said Barnett's claims that council is dysfunctional and not getting along is simply not true.
â€œThat's a joke,â€ he said. â€œI have no idea where she gets that information. In fact, we had a meeting last night. We're not dysfunctional. We operate as we usually do. We address issues and concerns, pass bylaws, pass resolutions and do the work that council has been elected to do.
â€œIf you look at how CUPE operates, very rarely do they take on majors cities. They seem to want to pick on small Northern or rural municipalities then they bring in the big guns in from Toronto, from North Bay. They don't seem to want to flex their muscles with the big guys. (The workers) have darn good salaries, the best benefits you can possibly imagine in terms of their health and welfare. It's a good solid job. What do they expect from a small municipality?â€
He said they attempted to move past the amended work hours issue and identified a number of issues that they wanted to move forward on but the union ignored it. He said the settlement offer didn't have any counter offer regarding the amended work hours.
He called that issue the â€œline in the sandâ€ for the township.
â€œThe thing that really bothers us is the fact that this is not something that we all of a sudden plucked out of the air,â€ he said. â€œIroquois Falls has a very similar contract with CUPE. The city of Timmins has exactly the same, North Bay. In our own workforce we have employees at the arena who are following what we are trying to get the rest of the public works employees to follow.
â€œThere's something fundamental there that they don't seem to want to accept. We certainly want to get back together and discuss this issue.â€