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Sask. union files unfair labour practice application against City of Prince Albert

File - Some city workers on strike in the city of Prince Albert. The city and the workers struck a tentative deal on Sept. 29, but a ratification vote has been sidetracked as the union has brought a challenge before the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board. Gates Guarin/Global News

The union representing workers for the City of Prince Albert has halted a ratification vote and filed an unfair labour practice application with the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board over the city’s retention of its call centre.

There was hope that the strike would end soon after the union representing the inside workers and the city came to a tentative deal on Sept. 29.

The agreement was set to be voted on by members on Friday, but union representatives learned of “technological, structural and organizational changes made by the city.”

As a result, members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees 882 have asked the labour board to rule on the City of Prince Albert’s conduct during bargaining.

According to the union, CUPE 882 and the City of Prince Albert held a meeting to discuss a return-to-work agreement in the event the union membership voted to ratify the tentative agreement.

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During this meeting, the employer verbally notified the union that a call centre had been created at City Hall to manage calls during the strike. Immediately upon returning to work, employees would be told that the call centre would remain in place. This change would impact at least four employees in the Clerk Steno classification and at least five employees in the Secretary II classification.

The union said it felt blindsided that the city would leave out details that would affect its workers.

“The employer did not disclose any information about restructuring at City Hall or the formation of a call centre at any point during bargaining,” said Mira Lewis, national representative for CUPE.

“The employer advised that it had no intention and no obligation to negotiate this change. This, despite having discussions at the table regarding a City Hall restructuring Letter of Understanding which the employer proposed deleting. They told us the restructuring was complete, all the while knowing they were planning this call centre and choosing not to mention it.”

Cara Stelmaschuk, CUPE 882’s vice president, is worried about the impact the city’s actions will have on workplace morale.

“We were hopeful that the tentative agreement would be a step towards rebuilding workplace harmony and trust,” Stelmaschuk said. “To find out the employer was going to notify employees about restructuring as we walked into the building is concerning.”

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“Nine staff might seem like a small number of people, but it is almost 15 per cent of our City Hall staff.”

The City of Prince Albert however, said no violations of the Employment Act occurred by creating a call centre.

“The union characterized the change as ‘sweeping changes’ when in reality the immediate implementation of the call centre will result in no job loss, no wage loss, no change to hours of work and no change to job classifications or job descriptions,” a press release from the city said.

“The parties worked hard to come to a tentative agreement that included positive changes for the membership,” said Kiley Bear, director of corporate services for the city of Prince Albert. “We need a definitive response about the outstanding tentative agreement and I would expect the union would honour the right of their members to cast their vote.”

Given the decision to halt the ratification vote, the city said it is still awaiting a decision on the tentative agreement.

“We know our employees are dedicated to their work and we want them to come back so we can move forward together to serve the people of Prince Albert,” Bear said.

The union has asked for the city to provide a list of information on the continued centre by noon on Oct. 5, including a list of the employees impacted and how they will be impacted.

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“The union will bring a new tentative agreement to the membership for a vote once these new proposals have been thoroughly vetted and bargained,” Lewis said.

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