The International Union of Operating Engineers says a press release issued by the city on Feb. 13 misrepresented the truth “in an attempt to win over public support.”
Subsequently the union has prepared four bulletins of its own and has distributed them to union members, the media and the general public.
On Friday union business manager Saundra Taylor told the Tribune to hold off on publishing the first two releases, saying the union didn’t want to “fight fire with fire.”
That changed Monday when she realized how angry workers are and that many are sharing stories of dissatisfaction.
“They’re pushing our backs against the wall,” Taylor said.
Tuesday’s Tribune shared some of the union’s concerns with the city’s press releases.
Specifically the request for an increase to per diem rates and the fact that management has opted for a different benefits plan than the one the city said is “very fair” for union employees.
On Wednesday morning union representative John Dube responded to the city’s estimation that $250,000 is expended on call-out pay annually and that “many call outs require an hour, or less, of work.”
“You can be guaranteed those call outs are going to be more than four hours. Most of the time they’re in there for 14 or 15 hours,” Dube said, adding 90 per cent of employees take it in time, rather than money.
“Over-time is the cost of doing business.
“What they’re not saying is when they call our people in at 3 a.m. and someone goes in and fixes something, they want to pay them for one hour.
“By the time we get called in, get up, get in our vehicle, go fix what you have to fix, you’ve been awake for a few hours so you’re not going to be able to go right back to sleep.
“The city has to make it worthwhile for employees to go in for those emergencies, or they’re not going to go in for work and the public will suffer.”
The union said the city is correct that they have increased boot allowances, however, the union feels a small increase of $50 will leave some workers still having to put money out of their own pocket to purchase safety footwear.
“When you work outside you need boots for summer and winter. You’re looking at $500 a year. When we settle this contract will be getting $200. We’re still out $300, but we appreciate that they gave us a raise,” Dube said.
As for the increase in rates to the working foreman and lead hand the city mentioned, the union said there are a couple of workers who would see an increase to their wages of 35 cents and 20 cents per hour respectively.
“That pay rate hasn’t gone up in the last ten years,” Dube added.
Union members’ eight sick days cannot be accumulated from year to year, so the union has proposed that workers with small children be able to be at home with them while they are sick.
Most contracts have a provision that allows for family emergencies for up to five days.
The city said it would be willing to sign off on a memorandum of understanding for core services which ensures 28 positions are guaranteed no layoffs, but that it would require movement from the union on the call-out pay issue.
“We were told at the bargaining table they were using that MOU as a bargaining chip,” Dube said. “They have to understand we’re not playing games. We’re dealing with people’s lives. It’s as simple as that.”