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Kamloops News

Union says recycling strike could last longer; city not paying Emterra

KAMLOOPS - Locals should brace themselves for even lengthier delays in recycling service; five weeks after Emterra Environmental workers began their strike, seats are still empty at the bargaining table.

Marty Gibbons, the Kamloops chapter president of the local United Steelworkers union that represents the workers, says staff are digging in its heels for the long run after Emterra Environmental rejected all workers’ proposals and refused to meet with the Kamloops staff.

“We’ve made numerous attempts and as of (July 20) they added insult to injury where they sent letters to members trashing the union and threatening to throw them off benefits,” Gibbons says.

He chose not send a copy of the letter to media but says staff are further frustrated by it.

“It definitely pissed off a lot of people and it’s certainly not helping the matter. This kind of behaviour makes getting a deal even more difficult and causes both sides to become more and more entrenched,” Gibbons says.

Gibbons says staff is demanding an increase on pay to level all ten workers' pay in Kamloops to $15 per hour, a dollar more than current pay. To facilitate the costs, Gibbons says the union is asking the company to drop one of its five managers.

"It has been our longstanding practice not to negotiate contract terms through the media because we value all our employees and the work that they do. As part of our corporate sustainability, we believe in compensating our staff competitively within our local market,” vice president Ed Walsh says in a short email statement from the company.

Walsh says the company encourages the local steelworkers union to 'return to the table so we can continue meaningful bargaining.'

While the debate is centred between the company and its employees, Gibbons says the union approached the City of Kamloops to ask for help in mediations, but those requests were denied.

“We’ve attempted to involve the city, but they’ve taken the ostrich approach and buried their heads in the sand,” he says.

Jen Fretz, the city’s public works director, acknowledges the city hasn’t offered to take a seat at the bargaining table, but she says it's municipal practice to avoid interjecting in matters between private contractors and respective staff. Fretz adds mayor and council decided against making an exception to the rule in the case for the recycling company.

But while the strike continues, Fretz says the city isn’t paying the company; the public funds only pay for received service. She notes the service fees won’t be refunded though because the money collected will go towards picking up all the extra recycling once the strike ends.

“We will be collecting all the material that people have stored. Obviously there’s an extra amount. We will be incurring extra costs which we won’t be charging people (for) at the end of the strike,” she says. 

Fretz says the contractual agreement between the city and Emterra Environmental states a second location should open when the primary location isn’t operating. A second location hasn’t opened and Fretz says it’s 'not black and white' when determining who violated the contract.

“The problem we have is that if they provide a second site, that site is subject to a picket line,” she says.

Fretz adds the city has explored several different options to store recyclables and has yet to find an interim solution. Regarding the strike clause within the contract, Fretz says it appears its 'not as effective as we thought it would be' but maintains city council continues to look at proposed options.

Staff at other locations, like General Grants in Sahali, are seeing their recycling amounts and workloads double as dropoffs increase under the strike.

Fretz says the public works office receives between 50 to 60 complaint phone calls a day from members of the public.

A Freedom of Information request to view the contract between the City of Kamloops and Emterra Environmental has been filed. Once vetted to ensure no private information on the company is released, the document may be available to the public by the end of August.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Glynn Brothen at gbrothen@infonews.ca, or call 250-319-7494. To contact the editor, email mjones@infonews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

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