Grand Falls-Windsor town workers have rejected the town's latest offer for a new collective agreement, leaving the possibility of a strike on the table as people report to work Thursday.
Close to 100 unionized workers have been without a deal since the end of 2020. Affected employees include those working in water and sewer, parks and groundskeeping, municipal enforcement and administration.
Now, after nine months of negotiations, the town and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents the workers, have reached a stalemate after 99 per cent of members voted in favour of job action.
"The town is looking for some significant changes to the agreement that we're not prepared to take on," Ed White, Newfoundland and Labrador's national CUPE representative, told CBC Radio's Newfoundland Morning Thursday.
"As a result we reached an impasse, and our members are prepared to go on the street if necessary."
White said there are several issues that factor into the impasse, but said a key debating point has centred on changes to benefits and language around job classifications in a new collective agreement.
While he understands the town gets to decide what duties are handled by each position, he said, it's the union's responsibility to make sure members are compensated for their work.
"[There is] language around job descriptions that would basically negate any say the union would have in that process," White said.
"That's where we're at odds. We want to bring in an evaluation system that this town, from our perspective, was committed to.… That process was going along very, very well, but for some reason it's gone 180 degrees now."
When asked about how ready the union would be for a strike, White said workers are reporting to their positions Thursday in the hopes they can continue working.
"If the town makes other decisions, we need to do then what we need to do," he added. "It's really their move now, to try and reach an agreement here."
Impasse is bigger than saving money: mayor
In response to White's comments, Grand Falls-Windsor Mayor Barry Manuel said some of what White said had not been brought up at the bargaining table over the past nine months.
"We want to talk about the agreement itself," Manuel said. "I'll give them credit, they did bargain a great agreement. But at the same time, there are a couple of things that have changed over the years … that needs to change.
"When you talk about management rights and these things like job descriptions, job classifications, these are things that Mr. White said himself that it's the management's right to be able to decide. And for us, these are all rights that already exist in other places."
Manuel said another issue of debate during negotiations has centred on the payment structure of group insurance benefits.
According to Manuel, the town pays 100 per cent of workers' group insurance benefits and premiums, something he said is "just about unheard of" in other towns.
"When you talk about saving money … yeah, it's about that, but it's bigger than that. We're looking at increases in premiums that have been huge in the last number of years," he said. "Management are on the hook for the same increases in the future. So in effect, they've already agreed to take care of the future increases.
"There's a refusal to discuss [from the union], put it that way. It's 'no way are we going to change back on some of these rights.'… If it's continued refusal of coming back to the table and saying, 'We're never going to discuss this 100 per cent group insurance and making any changes' … then that's what we've been doing for nine months now."