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Workers fight for jobs while employer fights to avoid bankruptcy

CUPE workers have gone on strike the Centre at Naramata.
Image Credit: Centre at Naramata
May 16, 2014 - 2:39 PM

NARAMATA – The Centre at Naramata is known as a sanctuary, a retreat from the stresses and hustle bustle of modern life. Since Thursday it’s been anything but for the 30 unionized employees.

The CUPE workers walked off the job and are walking a picket line.

Talks with the employer have broken off after the union rejected the last offer and there’s no sign from either side in the labour dispute of a return to the bargaining table.

The Centre remains open with eight managers doing the work of the 30 strikers.

The friction between the seasonal staff and management at the Learning and Retreat Centre of The United Church of Canada reached a head about a year ago.

The Centre was in financial trouble.

An outside consultant was brought in, Colliers International, to have a look at the operation. It provided the Centre four recommendations: close the doors and sell; declare bankruptcy; close the doors and restructure the business; restructure the business while operating.

The B.C. Conference of the United Church of Canada stepped in a provide the Centre with a bridging loan to keep the doors open and saved the non-profit from bankruptcy, according to the director or strategic partnerships and development Jim Simpson.

That’s when management decided it had to layoff the eight food and beverage service employees and bring in a contractor to do the work.

Tom O’Leary with CUPE claims the employer said from day one regardless of any changes in the collective agreement they were still going to contract out the kitchen service. Plus they were looking at contracting out the rest of the jobs over the next couple years.

“They (management) don’t want these employees here,” he said. “At the end of the day if you can’t come to a collective agreement and all of your jobs are threatened… we decided to take the serious action of going out on strike.”

“The workers have nothing to lose. They weren’t going to sit around and keep the place afloat until the leadership was ready to get rid of them.”

Both sides agree that the Centre at Naramata is an economic generator for the small town.

“The whole turn around or restructuring… is so that we can serve our community and we view (the community) as our clients, our employees and the people around us,” Simpson says. “If we’re out of business we’re not serving anybody.”

O’Leary says the workers are going to be walking the picket line as long as necessary.

He says they don’t work at the Centre for the money – wages are well below industry standard and only half the employees have benefits.

“They love working here. They love the community and the community loves them. We’re not so sure management takes the same position.”

O’Leary says part of the reason for the strike is to inform the community and the congregants of the United Church about the way the employees are being treated.

“We’re hopeful something will change to where the United Church leadership will say, ‘you know what we have a resource here.’ The employees are an asset, not a liability.”

One of the picket signs read, “Would Jesus contract out his disciples?”

To contact a reporter for this story, email halexander@infotelnews.ca, or call 250-491-0331. To contact the editor, email mjones@infotelnews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014
InfoTel News Ltd

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