Striking city employees in Williams Lake will have their health and welfare benefits covered until the end of this month.
The city’s manager of human resources Ashley Williston said Wednesday the city is billed by the benefit carrier at the end of each month.
“We haven’t paid for them yet and will pay for them at the end of the month. I spoke to the broker and we did have a choice not to continue with them, but we decided our employees should be carried to the end of the month so they can make arrangements.”
International Union of Operating Engineers business manager Saundra Taylor said the union told the city it is intimidating the workers by threatening to cut off benefits.
“Moments after we walked away from the table Monday our members were being told they were getting cut off.”
“We told the city they better rethink terminating benefits because while employees are working for essential services they should be covered. We’ve got an essential service order and a global order, not all of them are essential. They want mechanics on standby, they want water guys on standby in case there are emergencies, workers at the complex, and we agreed to all that.”
Williston said the city is still working on the logistics of essential worker benefits.
Union representative John Dube said on one hand the city says in the media that it wants to deal fairly with and values the employees for the work they do, but now it wants to cut people off their benefits.
“Employers in general don’t do that. You’re affecting people with families and kids,” he said.
Besides, Taylor added, it’s a costly nightmare for the employer to reinstate benefits later.
When asked if the union will pick up the cost, Dube said it’s not in the union’s constitution to cover benefit costs.
“The city is trying to shift the responsibility, rather than concentrating on trying to get a resolve here,” Dube said.
Williston said it is common with other public sector unions that they would cover the benefit costs and that the city is completely open to continuing with benefits if the union agrees to pay the costs.
“That’s the normal process with most unions,” she said.
Taylor agreed the Labour Code says the city can pull out of covering benefits, but in her experience she hasn’t seen it done in other communities.