City of Nanaimo’s union workers boycott Christmas party

Hundreds of city staff members choose not to attend luncheon Thursday

There wasn’t as much cheer as usual at today’s city Christmas luncheon.

The City of Nanaimo’s CUPE 401 workers boycotted this year’s event, held Thursday, Dec. 7.

Mayor Bill McKay said there were some staff in attendance along with managers and councillors, but virtually no CUPE 401 members.

“There was an e-mail that was sent out to shop stewards and union members to get the word out to boycott that luncheon,” McKay said. “Our union and their membership appeared to have boycotted the lunch to protest employment conditions and I fully uphold their right to do so as a trade union.”

Coun. Gord Fuller said the absence of the union workers affected the event’s attendance, “big time.” He said he saw a union executive at the front of the building advising workers that they had a choice in whether to attend.

“I don’t know if that’s boycotting or not,” Fuller said, adding he would feel intimidated about attending if he were put in that situation.

Fuller said he hadn’t personally heard any concerns about working conditions.

“No one on city staff has come to me and mentioned any issues with the city and all I know is a lot of management positions have gone, but there hasn’t been one position at the city gone,” he said. “So I guess until we know actually what the issues are, it’s hard to fix.”

He said the union members’ decision not to attend the Christmas luncheon was “extremely unfortunate,” and said he can’t fathom the union’s strategy to do so at the last minute.

“If anybody on staff has an issue with anything, they should be contacting us directly and saying, ‘hey, this is what’s happening, is there anything that could be done about it?’ But at this point, I’ve heard nothing,” Fuller said.

The mayor was also asked what could be done to address workers’ concerns, and said, “I’m certainly not prepared to comment on what those remedies might be.”

The absence of hundreds of employees made for a different mood this year at the Christmas luncheon, McKay said.

“It was certainly a sombre event.”

City manager Tracy Samra said, in a statement e-mailed to the News Bulletin Thursday, that for many years the city social committee has planned a Christmas lunch for all city staff and the event represents a “great opportunity” for city employees that don’t often cross paths to sit and enjoy a lunch together as the holiday season approaches.

“This year, many employees did not take part in the event, a move spearheaded by CUPE Local 401,” she said. “A member of CUPE’s executive stood outside the entrance throughout the lunch and spoke to employees as they arrived.

“We’re disappointed with the turn of events of this otherwise positive and festive event and that the city staff have missed out.”

She said the city’s senior management team values all its employees and prefers problems be addressed without resorting to “collective actions such as this.” She also stated that until CUPE 401 raises its concerns directly with the city she is not in a position to provide any specific comments.

The city arranged for the caterer to donate the food.

CUPE 401 president Blaine Gurrie could not be reached for comment despite repeated attempts by the News Bulletin.

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