Story by Troy Landreville,

COURTENAY, B.C. – The union representing 81 staff Comox Valley’s recreational facilities said members had no choice but to vote in favour of a strike.

“The United Steelworkers, Local 1-1937 (USW) and the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) have been at the bargaining table several times since bargaining commenced early this year,” a USW release read.

“The last two bargaining sessions were well before the municipal elections were concluded and there was ample time to meet and work towards a fair and equitable contract.  Instead the CVRD chose to come to the table with nothing and at our last meeting their head negotiator was not present. Leaving the USW Members with no choice, so on November 4th the USW Members from Local 1-1937 took a strong vote in favour of a strike.”

According to the release, the USW Bargaining Committee proposed language to address parity and the large wage gap that exists between the members at the CVRD and other neighbouring facilities that are of the same industry.

“One example of this is; a CVRD employee, who has two jobs, has commuted to a neighbouring facility where they perform the same job, with the same certificates, this person makes almost a $2.50 an hour more at the other facility doing the same job. The only difference is a 30-minute drive,” the release reads.

The USW said its bargaining committee have been committed to addressing the inequalities that are within the CVRD, some of the CVRD employees have some of their benefits 100 percent paid for by the employer but the Comox Valley Sports & Aquatic Centre employees have been paying 100 percent for some of the same benefits, even though they have the same employer.

The union said the CVRD has proposed a Wage and Rate Review, but the proposal not only suggests that the CVRD dictates who is on the committee, but also what information will be used to determine the decisions.

“The USW Members have already elected their Bargaining Committee exercising their democratic right for who bargains on their behalf,” notes the release.

“The CVRD has indicated that they will not be paying retroactive pay for any wage enhancements and during previous contract negotiations the Committee had used a similar wage and rate review agreement and found that after 15 months the Members received no retro pay for their enhancements.”

“The CVRD Wage and Rate Review are full of other agenda items with clauses that allow the employer to change the members’ job descriptions and their certification expectations. We do not feel this is fair to have an employee who has posted to a job with the outlined expectations to later tell them that the rules have now changed in the middle of the game.”

The USW also said the CVRD has indicated that they want to bargain according to the industry standards by proposing a percentage that is below the cost of living, but then on the other hand, will not work towards parity wages taken from neighboring industries.

“The USW Committee has always remained open to bargaining with the CVRD, and is hopeful that they will continue to meet to address the issues and avoid any labour action,” noted the release.

The CVRD issued the following statement in response to USW’s press release:

“While we strongly disagree with many of the claims made in this statement, we remain committed to reaching a collective agreement with USW for our employees at the Sports and Aquatic Centres,” it said.

“The CVRD will continue bargaining in good faith and that means working out our issues with the mediator at the bargaining table, not in the media. The appointment of a mediator provides an excellent opportunity for both parties to come back to the table and avoid a strike which would negatively impact both our staff and our patrons. Labour negotiations are never easy but we will continue to work towards an agreement that serves our employees and can be supported by the Comox Valley taxpayers.”