More than 100 workers from unions across the Lower Mainland gathered on the front lawn of White Rock City Hall Tuesday afternoon to support striking city employees.
“This is solidarity,” CUPE 402-01 president Mike Guraliuk proclaimed to cheers and applause. “We are not standing alone.”
The rally – which lasted about an hour – was announced Friday, after mediated negotiations the day before failed to bring the two sides any closer to resolution.
CUPE 402-01 has been on strike – the City of White Rock’s first ever – since May 1; full-scale job action launched May 12.
Key issues are clear hours of work for employees, cash-in-lieu benefits and a long-term disability plan. The latter is a particularly sticky point on both sides of the bargaining table.
Guraliuk told Peace Arch News the union simply wants the city to commit – “preferably in the contract” – to setting up a payroll deduction for the benefit. The setup would be no more onerous than that done annually for the employees’ United Way campaign deductions, he said.
“CUPE staff in payroll say it’s a few hours one morning… then it’s an automatic deduction.”
City manager Dan Bottrill said the city is willing to assist the union with a CUPE-administered plan by providing a plan carrier with employee information that the union may not have. But, “we don’t believe it needs to be part of a collective agreement.”
Mayor Wayne Baldwin said he is optimistic an agreement can be reached on all points.
“We’re not that far apart,” he told PAN.
Baldwin added that a letter explaining the issue is to go out to residents “hopefully this week.”
“They should understand what’s happening,” he said.
Noting limited availability of the mediator, Baldwin said he expects a return to the bargaining table next week.
“We don’t want to see our employees out. They’re good people,” he said.
At the rally, Guraliuk announced a message for Baldwin: “We’re not going to fall back and cower,” he said. “We’re going to fight this to the bitter end.”
Meanwhile, collateral damage of the job action is growing.
In addition to the strike’s impact on this weekend’s White Rock/South Surrey Relay for Life fundraiser, garbage and recycling is starting to pile up in the city.
As well, Semiahmoo Minor Lacrosse players can’t host home games, leisure programs are on hold and seniors’ dances at the Kent Street Activity Centre have been cancelled.