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Mount Pearl locks out unionized workers; CUPE shocked by move

The City of Mount Pearl has locked out its municipal workers, with Mayor Randy Simms saying council could not let a deadlock over a new contract drag on.

Union rep says city's decision is 'very disappointing and disheartening'

Unionized workers with the City of Mount Pearl set up a picket line outside the city depot after learning CUPE had been locked out. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

The City of Mount Pearl has locked out its municipal workers, with Mayor Randy Simms saying council could not let a deadlock over a new contract drag on.

The lockout began at 6 a.m. Tuesday, and affects most services, though garbage collection will move to a bi-weekly collection schedule beginning Wednesday. Recycling and bulk garbage collections are suspended.

The Reid Community Centre, swimming pool and Kenmount Park Community Centre are closed, and recreational programs and events are suspended. City Hall, the municipal depot and the Glacier arena will continue to operat, and more than 40 non-union workers are still on the  job.

Simms said that when talks broke off between the city and CUPE last week, the gap between the two sides on compensation was simply too great.

"We feel that the last offer that we made was fair," Simms told CBC News. "We can't let this go on forever and that's why the lockout is occurring."

The spectre of a labour disruption has been hanging over Mount Pearl for several weeks. On Sept. 18, nearly 90 per cent of the 140 workers that CUPE represents voted in favour of a strike mandate.

Bob Martin, president of CUPE Local 2099, which represents the city's inside and outside workers, said Tuesday morning that the lockout came as a shock to workers.

"We were willing to stay in and keep the services going for the city, and we were willing to go back to the table. We never got the call to go back to the table," said Martin.

The union was informed at about 10 p.m. Monday that "our services were no longer needed," Martin added.

He said a public works crew was working late into the evening on Monday, doing repairs to water and sewer infrastructure. After the job was completed, the crew was told to go home.

No need for lockout: CUPE 

CUPE national representative Ed O'Keefe said that despite the heavy strike vote, the union actually wanted to avoid picket lines, and that the lockout is unnecessary.

"To me it's very disappointing and disheartening," he said.

"He has done it in the past week, negotiating in public and now he is locking them, out so I guess we really know what he thinks of his employees."

O'Keefe was referring to how Simms reacted to CUPE's rejection of Mount Pearl's offer, which Simms said included a 12 per cent wage increase over four years and measures to protect defined benefits pensions and benefits for retirees.

"With not a single concession asked for by the city, not a single concession coming out of the contract — uh, yeah, I'm disappointed and quite frankly I'm a little amazed," Simms had said.

Meanwhile, Martin said the workers provide a level of service to the residents of Mount Pearl that is "superior" to any other municipality in the province.

He said the union membership is standing firmly behind the efforts of the negotiating committee, and noted "we are not very pleased with this (lockout)."

The city will post regular updates to its new Citizen ALERTS system, and on its website.

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