Nova Scotia

Halifax Water contract talks break off with CUPE

Contract talks between Halifax Water and 345 unionized workers represented by CUPE have broken off.

Two locals represent 345 inside and outside workers

During the 2017 budget approval for water, sewer and stormwater rates, Kitchener city council asked staff to look into potential strategies that would balance necessary replacement of aging water infrastructure with affordability. (Tim Graham)

Contract talks between Halifax Water and 345 unionized workers represented by two CUPE locals have broken off.

The groups represent both inside and outside workers.

CUPE  national representative Karen MacKenzie says it was Halifax Water that ended talks and asked the conciliation officer to file a report. That is expected to happen later in the month.

"We've been through the bargaining process. We've been through the conciliation process. We met four days with the help of a conciliator," she said.

"And on the last day, the employer came in with a final offer, the union counter proposed and at that point the employer asked for the conciliator to file her report."

James Campbell with Halifax Water says that is a bit misleading and it was actually the conciliator that asked to file, not Halifax Water.

Once the report is filed and in the hands of the Nova Scotia minister of labour — 14 days later — both sides will be in a legal strike or lockout position.

Halifax Water spokesperson James Campbell says no new talks are planned. (CBC)

"We put forward what we feel is a fair wage and pension offer," Campbell said.

"The reality is our utility is funded by our customers, and our customers have a finite ability to pay and we have to be respectful of both our workers, which we are, but also we have to be respectful of the pocketbook of our customers."

Wages and pensions are the two main issues. CUPE says it was those same stumbling blocks that led both groups to vote in favour of strike action in December 2014.

According to Mackenzie, Halifax Water is looking for concessions on employee pensions.

"The offer, throughout this whole process, from the very beginning, to last week when they broke off, have been nowhere near what the union has asked for," MacKenzie said. "The union hasn't asked for anything unreasonable in this round of bargaining."

Campbell says no new talks are planned.

"If it comes to a strike or a lockout, which we hope it won't, it's never happened in our history since 1945, so we're hoping to keep that streak alive, but we have a contingency plan in place to keep the operation of our utility going," Campbell said.

Mackenzie says CUPE is more than willing to return to the bargaining table.

"At some point, 'no' is not an answer," she said. "You have to actually negotiate with us, instead of letting us negotiate with ourselves for the last year and a half."

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