Nfld. & Labrador

Placentia mayor and town workers clash amid CUPE strike

A CUPE strike involving 15 labourers has been going on for over two weeks in Placentia, and shows no signs of stopping.

‘The difficult part is dealing with the mayor,’ says president of CUPE Local 1761

Town of Placentia workers have been on the picket line for two weeks. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

Placentia's arena, offices, and public grounds have been slightly more empty over the past two weeks, since 15 union workers started striking.

The employees, who work as clerical staff, arena attendants, maintenance operators, labourers and municipal enforcement officers, waved flags near the Placentia Town Hall on Tuesday, demanding a better deal from the mayor.

"We've been 15 months trying to get a collective agreement with this town," said Gerry Quilty, president of CUPE Local 1761.  

"They have... a consultant doing their bargaining for them, and it's very frustrating."

Quilty said it's been difficult dealing with Mayor Bernard Power.

Many programs and services offered by the town have been halted as a result of the strike. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

"He's just not co-operative... and I really think that sometimes this is personal with him," Quilty said.

"It's his way or the highway, and we're not having that."

Quilty said the CUPE members are looking for fair bargaining.

"We want a fair deal. And right now, we don't consider ourselves [to be getting] a fair deal," he said.

Mayor says lengthy process isn't town's fault

Meanwhile, when it comes to the negotiations, the mayor said he takes issue with two things: wages and scheduling.

Power said the long negotiation process isn't entirely the town's fault.

"Fifteen months is a long time. However... on CUPE's side, we went through four negotiators through this session. So obviously through four negotiations, and four different negotiators, that had an impact on the length of the time that they actually sit down and do the negotiations," he said.

"It took us right up to, I believe it was July, before they actually gave us a proposal about what their wishes were."

Power said Quilty's problems with him are misdirected.

"The mayor... and the council have not even been involved in the negotiations," he said.

CUPE members are taking issue with the town hiring a consultant to do its bargaining. (Noah Laybolt/CBC)

Power said they hired a consultant to negotiate on behalf of the town.

"We didn't have anybody at the management level with union negotiating experience," he explained. 

"I find it ironic that at the same time, the union itself... they use CUPE negotiators as well that are professionals from St. John's. And they take offence when the town hires consultants to negotiate on their behalf."

NAPE offers its support

NAPE also offered its support to the strikers on Tuesday, with president Jerry Earle standing alongside CUPE members — even though NAPE is the union to which Power belongs.

Gerry Quilty (left), president of CUPE Local 1761, and NAPE President Jerry Earle stood together on the picket line outside of Placentia's Town Hall on Tuesday. (Noah Laybolt/CBC)

"We're here to support them as we would any union across the island," Earle said. 

"We'll also make a financial donation to them shortly to assist them, because when workers are on strike, obviously there's financial difficulties that they face."

Earle said NAPE would like to see a resolution.

"What we'd like to see happen here is that council would come back to the bargaining table, sit down with the respective negotiating team, and try to reach a collective agreement that's amicable to both sides," he said.

Local CUPE members picketing together with NAPE members during a strike in the town of Placentia. (Noah Laybolt/CBC)

While neither side is currently showing signs of compromising, Quilty said the striking workers are determined.

"We're willing to strike here until we get a fair deal," he said.

About the Author

Noah Laybolt is the Newfoundland and Labrador Gzowski Intern for 2019.