As the Mount Pearl municipal workers' strike nears the two-month mark, negotiations have stalled, while the union and city management exchange public accusations of retribution and dangerous tactics.
Last week, the city offered workers what it said was its final offer, which included a nine per cent raise over four years, a $1,000 signing bonus and 18 days of sick leave for new and existing employees, plus the introduction of two personal leave days. Sick leave had been a sticking point earlier in negotiations, with the city proposing a reduction in sick days for new hires.
But the union rejected the offer and on Friday workers burned copies of the proposal at a rally outside city hall.
The president of Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 2099, which represents about 200 workers on the picket line, said workers fear they will punished for striking when they eventually return to work.
"We've heard loud and clear that they will not go back and vote on the contract that sees their members — their brothers and sisters — with letters of discipline on their file for return to work, because we know it won't end there when we get back," said Ken Turner.
Mayor Dave Aker, who called Friday's rally "pretty traumatic," said staff were told at the beginning of the strike that they would be held accountable for safety violations.
"But that doesn't mean they're going to get fired. It just means that we want to ensure that the environment is safe," he said.
Aker pointed to an incident in July in which some striking workers in a truck cut off a city garbage truck, nearly resulting in a collision.
"So you have the 15-ton garbage truck who had to slam on the brakes. It was a near miss … that put two people's lives at stake. So we just want to make sure that we're on the record that that's wrong," said Aker.
Turner chalked it up to an inexperienced driver who was trying to slow down garbage pickup, and said obstructing traffic is something that happens often during strikes and at picket lines.
"Picketing by nature is inherently unsafe," he said.
The city and union have been negotiating since March and the workers began their strike on July 7.
Both sides say they want to get back to the table but Turner accused the city of acting in bad faith and negotiating in public. The mayor said the city made its offer public because residents deserve to know where the strike stands.
Aker also said the two sides made a lot of progress in the last round of negotiations but Turner said the city has been inflexible and keeps moving the goalposts when they get close to an agreement.
He pointed to city workers in St. John's getting an 11 per cent raise and a signing bonus in its latest contract, and says he'd like to see Mount Pearl workers get a return-to-work allowance, rather than a signing bonus, to make up for lost wages.
The mayor said both sides need to find common ground.
"This can all get resolved I think if CUPE takes the compromise that we laid on the table during negotiations," said Aker.