Update: This article was originally written under the assumption that the CUPE media release was regarding Cochrane, Alberta, but it turns out that it was referring to Cochrane, Ontario.
Last week, the Canadian Union of Public Employees published an update on their website regarding ongoing negotiations between the Town of Cochrane and CUPE members employed with the town.
The last contract for these workers expired at the end of 2021, nearly a year and a half ago.
Lyne Nolet, an operations clerk and president of CUPE Local 71, which represents the town’s non-management staff, said that the negotiations team has been frustrated by the process, which has dragged on for 15 months.
“This has been an incredibly frustrating round of bargaining, which has not been helped by all the turnover in the town’s management” Nolet said. “We’re very proud of our work, but it’s hard to feel respected when we’ve been without a contract since 2021 and when wages are far below inflation.”
According to CUPE, with wages being below inflation for years, real wages for these workers have actually fallen 12 percentage points behind inflation.
And that’s not even counting the 6% inflation Alberta saw in 2022, or the inflation we will see by the end of this year.
The Town of Cochrane’s bargaining team has been unwilling to recognize the drop in real wages, which has been a sticking point for the workers. As a result, CUPE’s own bargaining team brought the idea of a strike vote to the municipal workers represented by the union.
In a vote held last month, 96% of those who voted indicated that they were willing to strike if it came to it.
A strike mandate doesn’t automatically mean the workers will go on strike.
Rather, it means that the bargaining team can returning to the negotiations table to let the employer know that the workers not only rejected their most recent proposal but were willing to strike for a better contract.
The workers aren’t just frustrated with wage proposals. The employer, according to the union, is also dragging its feet on resolving scheduling issues and making that National Day of Truth and Reconciliation a paid holiday for these workers.
The union’s bargaining team will head back to the negotiating table later this month with the strike mandate, hoping it’ll give them the leverage they need to get a better contract and avoid any work action.
However, they’re willing to take that action if it becomes necessary.
“The members have clearly expressed what they want,” Nolet remarked. “Now it’s up to Cochrane management to work with us and negotiate a fair contract. We are optimistic but are ready to take action to defend our rights.”