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Striking White Rock staffers make history

Unionized City of White Rock employees began rotating job action this morning. - Tracy Holmes photos
Unionized City of White Rock employees began rotating job action this morning.
— image credit: Tracy Holmes photos

Applause and calls of "shame" were repeated outside White Rock city hall this morning, as unionized workers from as far away as North Vancouver gathered in a show of "solidarity."

The rally was organized to mark the first day of the city's first-ever strike, which launched early Friday with pickets and a call to "stand up for our rights."

The union gave the city 72-hour notice of the job action on Tuesday, after mediated bargaining did not bring the two sides to an agreement.

Some of the placards carried by city staffers clearly took issue with a statement made by Mayor Wayne Baldwin to Peace Arch News earlier this week that the issues driving the job action are "trivial."

The workers – who donned placards bearing such statements as 'Wayne's strike', 'Long-term disability not trivial' and 'United for fairness' – were joined later in the morning by CUPE BC president Mark Hancock and Surrey local president Jeannie Kilby.

Mike GuraliukKilby described the local having to go on strike as "unfortunate," and pledged the support of Surrey's "sisters" and "brothers."

"The 3,000 of us in Surrey will stand behind and beside you," Kilby told the crowd.

Baldwin told PAN Thursday evening that while he didn't intend for his comment earlier in the week to sound "flippant," he maintains the sticking points between the sides "are not the kind of issues one would go on strike with."

Baldwin described a strike as something "that's really drawing a line in the sand," and said he suspects there might be other motivating factors behind the scenes.

Outside city hall Friday morning, Celina Strachan – who has worked as a casual employee at the city for three years – told PAN she looks at the job action as "setting the stage for future generations."

Gerry Busby, a 24-year employee who currently works in the city's finance department, said she is shocked "by what appears to be the complete lack of progress and no willingness to negotiate."

Busby said that while the union is "not asking for much" for its members – key issues are a long-term disability plan and clear hours of work for casual and part-time staff – the costs to workers affected are "huge."

She noted that one employee who died two years ago from cancer had to return to work during her fight with the disease because, without long-term disability benefits, she couldn't afford to be off.

Local union president Mike Guraliuk said the picket line would continue until 4:30 p.m. Friday, and that no job action would take place over the weekend.

The union has promised to give the city 24 hours of upcoming job action, which will likely next target the city's operations yard. Those details will be ironed out at a meeting scheduled for Monday night, Guraliuk said.

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