January 23, 2015 - 4:40 PM
PENTICTON - Employees of The Naramata Centre remain on picket lines days after management issued a press release announcing the permanent closure of the facility.
Tom O’Leary, National Representative for the Canadian Union of Pubic Employees, said on Jan. 23 the announcement was not unexpected.
“It was always their option. What’s puzzling is the timing, after raising $500,000 in three weeks,” he said, adding it was also an odd time to be pulling the plug, because the centre wasn’t currently operating, or running programs.
Approximately 30 employees have been on strike at the centre for the past 9 1/2 months, over a restructuring plan that would have replaced long term union staff with new, lower paid non-union positions.
O’Leary said the union received a letter the centre was closing, effective immediately.
“They’ve served notice, but legal mechanisms and processes need to be dealt with,” O’Leary said, adding there were terms in the collective bargain related to closing of the facility.
“It’s not just a simple matter of shutting down,” he said. “We’ll be here until we don’t have to be. It’s time the United Church took a leadership role and talked to us."
O'Leary notes employees were ready at any moment to bargain those terms in good faith.
“It’s our position Naramata Centre is United Church property," he said. "At the end of the day, the church needs to take a leadership role. Now that the waning days of employment are here, it’s time to step up.”
O’Leary said he had no idea what future plans were for Naramata Centre. He pointed out the property’s value and importance within the community and whatever form the centre takes in the future will affect many people.
“There is a bargaining relationship in place here - a two paragraph letter doesn’t negate that,” CUPE Secretary-Treasurer Paul Faoro added.
“These employees have the full support of our 85,000 membership. We’re here as long as it takes to get them the respect they deserve. It’s not rocket science - we need someone to show up on the other side,” Faoro said.
Faoro also said they've heard from businesses in town and were told how much they rely on the centre.
"Naramata Centre just finished successfully raising $500,000, saying things were going to be all right, then they shut their doors," Faoro said. "Who is making these decisions?"
Repeated calls to Naramata Centre board members by InfoNews were not returned by press time.
Striking worker and Naramata resident Brenda Lende said the centre means a lot to the community.
“We could feed and bed 350 people, not including the campground. The centre takes up 26 acres, pretty much the heart of Naramata,” she said, estimating up to 10,000 people visited the facility each year.
“Half the employees are residents of the community. I’ve been here 15 years and I’m one of the junior ones. Some employees have 30 years or more.”
In the community itself, employees of the Naramata Store were not commenting on the recent developments. Elisa Bartos, who opened the Grape Leaf Cafe in May last year, said she couldn’t comment on the impact the closure would have on the community, as the facility hasn’t been open since her arrival.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015