After a partial day of picketing Metro Vancouver’s five wastewater treatment plants, some 670 workers seeking a new collective agreement walked off the line Monday after their union said there were threats to stop benefits payments.
The Greater Vancouver Regional District Employees Union announced it would reconvene mediation with Metro Vancouver at the Labour Relations Board offices in Vancouver on Wednesday, October 18.
“As of late, Metro Vancouver has advised the Union that any type of strike activity, including expressing solidarity by wearing union buttons, may cease payment of its benefit contributions for our members,” the union announced in a statement. “Threats will not deter us in our fight for a fair and equitable deal as shown by the job action taken today.”
The workers have been without a contract for nearly two years after calling for higher wages and enhanced benefits. They voted in favour of strike action in September.
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Metro Vancouver issued a statement to media in advance of the picketing. The regional district said workers have been offered an 11.5% wage increase over three years, plus a one-time lump sum of $2,350, as well as improvements to allowances and benefits.
Prior to the strike action, the union had been asking employees to temporarily refuse standby duties and overtime within Metro Vancouver.
“We believe this approach will allow us to exert the necessary pressure on Metro Vancouver,” the union’s executive committee announced in a statement on October 2.
Recent communications from the union about the bargaining discussions highlight some ongoing sticking points. They suggest that fair compensation is required “for some undervalued classifications” and that there is the need for extended health care plan improvements comparable to other regional work groups. The union also says that the regional district is demanding concessions to hours of work, as well as short-term illness and injury health plans. It says the district wants it to forego fair wage settlement protection under the collective agreement.
The union also suggested that the two-year delay in reaching a new agreement has negatively affected worker retention.
Union members work in a range of departments in the regional district, including watershed management, water distribution, water treatment and disinfection, wastewater collection and treatment, affordable housing, regional parks, and air quality monitoring.
Metro Vancouver’s five WWTPs include: Annacis Island WWTP; Iona Island WWTP; Lions Gate WWTP; Lulu Island WWTP; and the North West Langley WWTP. Collectively, they process more than 1 billion litres of wastewater every day.