A lengthy labour dispute at the Naramata Centre continues as CUPE union members on strike seek both intervention by the United Church of Canada and a ruling that the church and the centre are the same employer.
The labour action, which began May 15, began as the result of a restructuring plan introduced by the Naramata Centre Board of Directors.
Jim Simpson, spokesman for the non-profit organization, said Tuesday that CUPE has now filed an application with the Labour Relations Board to have Naramata Centre and the United Church of Canada deemed “one common employer."
“From our perspective, the Naramata Centre Society is an independent, non-profit society created in the late 1940s to do a variety of things, but its main focus in the early days, and still today, is around programs and leadership development retreats (and) family camp expenses," Simpson said.
Simpson confirmed the United Church has three “program and retreat centres” in Canada, including Naramata Centre. However, the centre’s courses are independent of the United Church.
“The union is trying to say, ‘well, no, you’re really just one employer,' and that’s what they’re trying to get the Labour Relations Board to rule," he said. "We’re not clear what that would actually get them. They’ll have to speak to why they’re doing it.”
Striking CUPE spokesman Colin Drought said the union’s application was intended to get the United Church of Canada to take responsibility to end the 195-day-old dispute.
“The union wants to show the United Church is the employer of the centre,” he said of the union’s application. He said the church tried to take itself out of the discussions.
"We want them to become involved. This strike has gone on for over six months, (the union) has wanted them involved since the beginning. We want them to step in, take responsibility for the staff and resolve this issue that we have," he said.
Simpson insisted the United Church and Naramata Centre were two independent organizations. He said Naramata Centre Society owned all assets, with some limited funding in the form of a small grant coming from the United Church. When Naramata Centre began looking at restructuring some 15 months ago, the United Church also provided a loan.
"Do people who attend the centre also go to church? Sure, but from a legal entity, from an organizational standpoint, we are totally stand-alone," he said.
Simpson said the centre and union are undergoing mediation. He called the application “not helpful” but hoped for a resolution.
The centre sought changes after annual operating losses began to pile up. It wanted to contract out two of the centre’s services, which would have meant layoffs.
“Within our collective agreement, we have the right to do that,” he said. During that process, the regular collective agreement came up for renewal, which expired March 31.
“At that point, the union wanted to bargain for removal of the clause that would have allowed us to contract out,” Simpson said.
A new operating plan for the centre, under development since the summer, also involves a campaign to raise $500,000 in pledges by November 31. The funds would give Naramata Centre funding to finish and implement the new plan in 2015 and beyond.
“It’s going well,” Simpson said of the fund raising. “We’re not there yet, but as of last weekend (Nov. 22-23) we announced we were over $300,000. I think we’re going to get there.”
Striking staff members also claim that many residents are unaware the fundraising is going towards next year’s operating costs rather than to help end the strike.
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