City and union reach tentative agreement
Picket lines are going down in Williams Lake as union city workers prepare to return to work Thursday after the union reached a tentative agreement with the city late Tuesday.
Around 110 members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 882B began legal strike action on Feb. 16.
Workers resumed work on Feb. 18, but by noon when the union walked away from the table because it did not feel bargaining was taking place, the picket lines went back up, and have remained up ever since.
At around 9 p.m. Tuesday, a tentative agreement was reached that IUOE business manager Saundra Taylor said she's confident her members will ratify over the weekend.
"I don't take a deal if I don't think my members are going to ratify it," Taylor said Wednesday.
The agreement has to be ratified by council at an in-camera council meeting Wednesday evening and then it can go to the union membership.
Taylor was satisfied with the work of BC Labour Relations Board mediator Trevor Sones.
"I've had him before. He's pretty good. I was fairly confident that we would get a deal with his help and we did, but I think trying to do it earlier would not have been successful."
The two sides weren't stalemated, she insisted.
"I still go back to that. They weren't bargaining with us. I think with his guidance and a little bit of pressure on both sides, thank goodness, we got an agreement."
Scones went back and forth between the union and the city — the two sides were never sitting in the same room.
All along the union said it was being asked to take concessions. Now that they've reached an agreement, Taylor said it was give and take on both sides with the mediator's help.
"Everybody had to realize you're not going to get everything you want. I knew that going in, but I had a brand new bargaining team and I said to Trevor, maybe we should have agreed to this earlier, but honestly I don't think if we had done it earlier, we would have been successful then."
The strike and everything is what moved both sides, she suggested."
"We had a hearing scheduled at the Labour Board Thursday because I had to file against them for threatening to cut the benefits. They were going to do that and I've never had that happen. It's not a good thing. They need a lot of time to heal and at the 11th hour last night we weren't sure that was going to happen either and I had to get my lawyer involved."
Taylor said the union does not want to release details of the agreement until after it is ratified.
Mayor Kerry Cook said council is excited to have reached a tentative agreement.
“It’s great to see that the picket lines are down. Council is meeting tonight to discuss ratification,” Cook said. “This is something the union will have to do as well.
It will be great to see business return to normal on Thursday morning, she added. “I think it’s really good news.”
John Dube, IUOE 882 chief shop steward for the city and service representative for the region, said crews will go in Wednesday evening to prepare the complex for reopening and everyone else will return to work Thursday morning.
Echoing Taylor, Dube said the agreement is as good a deal as the union could have got, but added it would have been nice to have more.
"We got what we could and now it's time for our members to get back to work and service the public."
Dube agreed the last 11 days have been dramatic.
"A strike is one of those things that you have to do, but it's never pleasant by all means. If this was a perfect world, we wouldn't have had to do the strike thing, but we had to do what we had to do," he said, adding the union is happy its members are going back to work.