Whitby council meetings cancelled due to strike

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Published October 19, 2023 at 4:28 pm

Whitby has suspended all its council meetings due to the ongoing municipal workers’ strike.

The town’s 300 striking workers are represented by CUPE Local 53. The union and Whitby attempted to negotiate a new contract 15 times since March but the parties could not come to terms regarding several issues, most prominently scheduling.

The town wants to be able to schedule workers with more “flexibility” to address community priorities and needs. They’ve offered a 9.5 per cent pay increase and benefits expansion to compensate, but the CUPE didn’t bite.

Local 53 President Robert Radford has said the scheduling changes imperil the worker’s work-life balance. “This will have a dramatic impact on families and their quality of life,” he said.

As a result of the strike, now nearing the end of its first week, most town services are suspended, including garbage pick-up, recreation centres, marriages and animal services. The town has taken steps to run a contingency plan for some essential services. They’ve opened two garbage drop-off centres at the Iroquois Park Sports Centre and the McKinney Centre.

The union has pledged not to restrict access to the drop-off sites, but has criticized the centres as employing “scab contract workers.”

Since the town is now solely focused on providing what essential services it can, all council and meetings have been cancelled for the rest of October. The town says it may schedule some special meetings for urgent matters, such as the expected second public session regarding the 1635 Dundas St. homeless shelter.

This shelter project has been a lightning rod of controversy since the Region of Durham announced it would convert the old Sunnycrest nursing home into a low-barrier shelter. Many in the neighbourhood are opposed to the shelter and have proven raucous at earlier meetings. The town was set to host a third public discussion this month, but it was delayed for negotiations between the town and the region.

Beyond these emergency meetings, it seems business as usual will not resume until the strike is over. Both the town and CUPE have said they are open to resuming discussions, but both parties remain adamant they will not concede on the scheduling provisions.

“The Town remains open to having meaningful discussions with the union to achieve a fair and reasonable tentative agreement, but it will take both parties willing to sincerely bargain for us to get there,” said Whitby Cheif Administration Officer Matt Gaskell, “The Town has modified its offer many times to address CUPE concerns, the most recent proposed changes to scheduling and hours of work to ensure little to no impact on the current employees.”

“The CUPE bargaining committee refuses to meet the employer partway on key matters of importance, leaving no room for common ground,” he said. Gaskell said the union had “full control” of scheduling for workers, “Like any modern employer, the Town needs the ability to staff our programs and services at times that work for our residents. Currently, regardless of how necessary such changes are to respond to the needs of the community, the Town must seek permission from the union for any schedule changes.”

CUPE has maintained giving the town the control it wants would harm its members, “Instead of giving us a good explanation for why the employer needs full control to make members work an indefinite number of temporary assignments and the power to eliminate current shift schedules, wreaking havoc on our quality of life, among other things, we’ve gotten nothing,” Radford said.

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