Inside workers for the City of Prince Albert are back on strike after a contract vote was derailed last week.
There was hope that the strike would end soon after the union representing the inside workers and the city came to a tentative deal on Wednesday.
Members of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 882, whose members work in city hall and entertainment and recreational facilities in various capacities, were set to vote on the latest contract on Friday.
If the vote was ratified, a return-to-work date would have been set — ending a nearly three-week strike and months-long impasse with the city over contract negotiations.
However the union halted the vote and destroyed the ballots that were cast after it said it was told by the city's negotiating team that there would be a number of technological, structural and organizational changes going forward.
Mira Lewis, national representative for CUPE 882, says the city didn't inform the union of the changes until Friday.
"We cannot in good faith have our members carry out the vote knowing that the employer withheld vital information," Lewis said.
Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 882 members on the picket line in Prince Albert (Trevor Bothorel/CBC)
Lewis said the members were devastated when they were informed the vote couldn't go ahead because of the last-minute disclosure.
"You could hear a pin drop," Lewis said.
Lewis says the inside workers are unhappy to be back on the picket line.
"It's incredible how much these people care, and it is shocking how little the employer cares about them."
Call centre causing dispute
The city says the only proposed change was the creation of a call centre — something it claims was already shared with CUPE.
The city added the call centre was used during the strike and proved to be "very effective" in improving customer service.
"The change includes relocating four clerk steno positions in City Hall to a central location within City Hall to continue to answer calls using a system that has been used by the city for two years," Kiley Bear, director of corporate services for the City of Prince Albert said in a news release.
Kiley Bear, director of corporate services for the City of Prince Albert, right, speaks during a news conference about the strike. Kevin Yates, the city's human resources manager, left, joined her. (Trevor Bothorel/CBC)
Bear says no one would lose their jobs and salaries wouldn't be affected.
"We are dismayed by the decision of the union executive," Bear said. "Unfortunately, our employees are unable to return to work and are left to grapple with the last-minute decision to destroy their ballots."
Domino effect on employees
Lewis said the creation of the call centre will have an impact on more than just the four employees who are being relocated. She added that other employees will have to pick up the slack for the other members who are being moved.
"While they're physically only moving four people, the requirements under the collective agreement mean that the domino effect could impact an awful lot of people and without us knowing the actual details of the jobs and what exactly their plans are," Lewis said.
Lewis says the way the city went about proposing change violates the Saskatchewan Employment Act.
She says under the act "employers must give written notice to the bargaining agent and the Minister of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety, when proposing an organizational change or technological change that will likely affect the terms, conditions, and tenure of employment of a significant number of employees."
The city disputes the union's claims. It argues that the change does not constitute an organizational change, nor does it violate the city's collective agreement —plus the number of employees being affected is low.
LISTEN | Why are City of Prince Albert inside workers on strike?
Lewis said the strike won't end until a fair deal is reached.
"We're asking them to come back to the bargaining table and to actually negotiate in good faith without sneaking anything by us," Lewis said.
In September a special mediator was appointed to help resolve the labour dispute. Lewis would like the special mediator to continue to be involved in the negotiations around the new proposed changes.