Employees for the Village of Harrison, represented by CUPE 458, voted 100 per cent in favour of strike action at a meeting last night. (Nina Grossman/The Observer)

UPDATED: Village said it has been open to negotiations with employees

Village workers voted in favour of strike action Wednesday night

UPDATED: The Village of Harrison said it has been open and available to bargaining since a 25-year agreement with its employees expired in 2016.

This follows news that employees for the Village voted unanimously in favour of a strike Wednesday night after months of negotiations failed to resolve disagreements.

The Village said it was aware that workers were seeking a strike mandate, but was surprised to see the results communicated online, rather than to the Village directly.

The Village employs 13 inside and outside workers represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 458 – with jobs ranging from public works, administration and water, wastewater and snow removal services.

According to CUPE 458 vice president Darlene Worthylake, the Village had expressed plans to dissolve the long-time employment agreement without offering a replacement. The agreement mandated things like wages and hours for employees.

“The workers are concerned that after several years of labour peace, management are insistent on dissolving an agreement that they have had with the workers for 25 years – an agreement that benefits the Village, residents and the workers,” she told the Observer.

According to Worthylake, a top concern for employees is scheduling. The 25-year agreement allowed outside employees to work 30 additional minutes in order to have a compressed work week.

“That actually benefits the employer because it gives the employer flexibility to schedule workers on the weekend without paying overtime,” she said.

But Village of Harrison Chief Administrative Officer Madeline McDonald told the Observer via email that this part of the agreement –outlined in a ‘Letter of Understanding’ (LOU) – creates coverage issues.

“The short days make adequate public works coverage problematic, especially for those tasks that require more than one worker,” she wrote, adding that the LOU requires the Village to pay outside workers for one hour more than they actually worked when scheduled for weekend shifts.

“The Village has indicated that it will not renew this LOU.”

Another issue on the table is wages, of which the Village said it is willing to “match the settlement pattern for municipal workers” in the region.

But McDonald said the Union’s latest demand – allegedly to see wage increases of 10 per cent each year over the next three years – is out of step with current rates.

“We’re optimistic that we can reach a reasonable agreement through the negotiation process.”

The Village added that it has been open to bargaining since the current collective agreement expired two years ago. In March – before the strike vote – the Union and the Village had agreed upon dates for further negotiations – set for June.

“We’re baffled by the implication that negotiations have broken down or that this strike vote is in anyway related to either party’s willingness to continue negotiations,” wrote McDonald. “In fact, progress has been made at the table and the outstanding issues seem to be hours of work and wages, issues which will be discussed further and hopefully resolved in June.”

But according to Worthylake, CUPE 458 employees have been negotiating the agreement with the Village since October, an unusually long time frame for a process that rarely takes more than a few days.

Still, the employees want to avoid resorting to strike action, said Worthylake.

“Strike action is always a last resort after all other options have been exhausted, especially in a small community where residents and business depend on public services,” she stated in a CUPE 458 press release.

“The union is not opposed to working out details, but we just didn’t see this happening with this employer. We are really hoping to avoid a strike…We really want to sit down with the employer and work this out,” she added. “We’re just hoping to have some bargaining before the summer season is upon us.”

CUPE 458 represents 400 municipal workers across the Fraser Valley including employees for Harrison, the District of Kent and the District of Hope.

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