New Brunswick

Sides in Bathurst lockout wait for each other to blink

Five days after the City of Bathurst locked out almost two dozen of its administrative workers, there's little sign of movement.

22 administrative workers locked out since Thursday morning

More than 20 members of CUPE Local 1282 picket in front of Bathurst city hall Monday, the fifth day of a lockout. (Shane Magee/CBC )

Horns and music blared outside city hall in Bathurst, N.B., on Monday as a lockout of almost two dozen city workers reached a fifth day.

The city locked out members of CUPE Local 1282 Thursday morning, 20 months after the last contract expired. 

There's little sign of movement as the sides trade recriminations and accusations. Both say they're waiting for the other to reach out before getting back to the table.

In the mayor's second-floor office, the din from the protest on St. George Street could be heard as Paolo Fongemie spoke.

"We're prepared to wait as long as it's going to take," the mayor said Monday. "This is not something that we're improvising. This is something that planned all the scenarios … we're prepared to wait."

Robert LeMoignan, a CUPE representative involved with negotiations, said the union hopes the city will reach out to a provincially appointed mediator to get talks underway again.

"I think the ball is in the court of the city," LeMoignan said. He said the city needs to come back with a new monetary offer.

"We are ready at any time to return to the table." 

The employees hold roles as secretaries, payroll and accounts clerks and other administrative positions across various departments. Managers have stepped in to fill their duties.   

The dispute largely comes down to money.

Robert LeMoignan, a CUPE representative, says the union wants wage increases in line with inflation andpreviously rejected a lower offer from the city. (Shane Magee/CBC)

The last collective agreement set out pay rates between $22.66 per hour and $32.41, depending on the role. 

LeMoignan said the union's executive rejected an offer in June — a move he says was supported by a majority of members — that included a pay increase of six per cent over five years.

He said members want a larger increase in line with changes to inflation, around two per cent.

The mayor declined to get into the details of the city's offer, but said it included a salary increase and other changes.

Fongemie said council the council elected in 2016 is trying to get the city's finances in order. The region's economy declined following mine and mill closures that cut into the city's tax base.

Bathurst Mayor Paolo Fongemie says the union's wage requests could result in tax increases, which the city wants to avoid. (Shane Magee/CBC )

The mayor noted the city has the third highest tax rate in the province, behind Saint John and Campbellton. He said he's not prepared to increase taxes on remaining residents and businesses.

"We are maintaining a status quo of that tax rate," he said. "That means we have to manage things differently."

The union says that approach has hurt working conditions, a view the mayor brushed off as misinformation.

The union has suggested the city's position on controlling spending is hypocritical after council voted 10 days before the lockout to approve its own salary increase. 

The locked-out workers include more than 20 administrative workers across various departments in Bathurst. (Shane Magee/CBC )

The mayor's pay increased 14.88 per cent to $52,000 annually. Councillor pay rose 22.79 per cent to $19,000 per year. It's the first change to council pay since 2003 and was recommended by a citizen's committee.

The bylaw, approved unanimously, will see council pay adjusted each year in line with inflation. 

In a Facebook post over the weekend, the mayor defended the move and said the increase has been less over time than union contracts. 

The mayor says he hopes the lockout will be short, and says it's not a reflection on the city's view of the workers. 

"They're great people, they're great employees," he said.


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