As the union representing city workers moves forward with arbitration next summer over the city’s bylaws department restructuring, the city plans to continue its transition.
“We’re just disappointed it had to come to this,” Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 900 president Carmen Sullivan told KTW. “We want to make sure that we’re looking out and keeping things fair. We have a collective agreement for a reason and that’s the intent. It’s extremely stressful for the members and their families. It’s been an extremely stressful process that started in July and it seems to not be ending.”
In a press release issued on Wednesday (Dec. 2), the union said the city gave CUPE 900 no alternative but to move forward with arbitration, which is set for August 2021.
Sullivan explained the city and union had eight meetings as a result of the city signalling to the union section 54 of B.C.’s Labour Code, telling the union it would be restructuring the bylaws department. According to the B.C. Labour Code, Section 54 deals with “adjustment plans,” including plans by an employer to introduce a change that affects the terms, conditions or employment of a significant number of employees to whom a collective agreement applies.
Sullivan said the union felt the meetings did not result in “meaningful conversation,” but were more about the city telling the union what it was planning to do.
Sullivan argued the employer is breaching article 27 of the collective agreement, which deals with severance pay. She said the city has eliminated the bylaws officer jobs, saying they are going to reorganize and that severance pay is provided on redundancy. According to the union, however, the bylaws positions are not redundant because the work is still required. Sullivan said based on the new job description provided, duties currently being done by bylaws officers will continue to be done.
Sullivan said it is wrong for the city to eliminate jobs based in redundancy when different people are being hired to do the same work of former employees.
Other concerns of the union include elimination of four full-time jobs that will result in fewer officers doing more work, leaving longtime staff behind and eliminating work-life balance. Sullivan said some of the bylaws officers have been city employees for more than three decades and, with the new restructure, they don’t fit. Part of that is because of training requirements of the new role, including physical assessment tests.
Sullivan said bylaws officers in their 60s would have passed the test when they first started with the city, but may not be able to do so now. Sullivan said the union does not see the correlation between the job description and the level of fitness test being required. While bylaws officers are currently working set shifts, Sullivan said the new positions will be rotating shifts, which makes child-care and family balance difficult.
City of Kamloops CAO David Trawin said the union is within its rights to seek arbitration. However, he said the city is of the stance that the decision will improve community safety. Trawin said council had asked administration to address increasing community complaints about safety. He said it was felt reorganization of bylaws and changing of job descriptions in the collective agreement would help, with the city planning education and training and increased responsibilities.
“It’s basically a bylaw officer on steroids, let’s put it that way,” Trawin said. “There will be different functions, different things needed to do, different expectations, different training, which we’re working on now. And we have been working with the union for the past four, five months on this. Obviously, there’s disagreements on the best way to do it. But we feel we are within our rights to do that.”
Trawin said the city is planning to work within its current budget, noting the plan is for the new roles to receive higher pay than what bylaws officers currently receive. Trawin said it is not yet know how many people will lose their jobs.
The union is calling for the transition to be halted until arbitration takes place next summer. However, Trawin said the issue cannot wait. He expects the full transition will occur in the new year, with the jobs having already been posted and several union people having applied for the community service officer role, others seeking other positions and others notifying the city of retirement.
“It’s too big of an issue,” Trawin said. “We will be continuing to move forward.”