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'You could hear a pin drop': Contract vote derailed in Prince Albert after surprise disclosure from city

Inside workers in Prince Albert have delayed a vote on a tentative contract after the city disclosed surprise plans for “sweeping” structural changes to its workforce.

Employees with CUPE 882 were set to vote on a tentative agreement on Friday, after nearly three weeks on the picket line.

According to a spokesperson for CUPE, the city told the negotiating team on Friday it was planning to make significant changes to the job location and duties of a number of positions, including moving some clerks into a call centre established at the start of the strike.

The changes could potentially force some workers to be reclassified, accept layoffs, or to bump junior colleagues from their positions, CUPE says.

After seeing progress in the last week and a tentative deal struck on Tuesday, CUPE said they felt blindsided by the move.

“The fact that the employer was sitting there withholding information damages the relationship … It is quite devastating for the employees,” said CUPE national spokesperson Mira Lewis.

“When we announced to the membership what had happened you could hear a pin drop.”

She says the city is required to negotiate such significant changes to the terms of employment with its staff, through a joint job evaluation committee.

“There are requirements under the Trade Union Act which the employer is blatantly ignoring,” said Lewis.

“They're putting more effort into minimizing the interests of the union than they are into maintaining a relationship or repairing a relationship that at this point is so broken that I feel like the road to recovery will be long.”

Employees with CUPE 882 have been without a contract since December 2021. In June, the union voted in favour of job action up to and including a full withdrawal of services. Prior to the strike, workers were under a work-to-rule order since Aug. 10.

The strike affects a number of city-run facilities including City Hall, the Art Hauser Centre and the EA Rawlinson Centre for the Arts.

Lewis says strikes are part of the union environment, but it’s not common for an employer to “draw these kinds of battle lines against their own employees.”

Many of the workers on the picket line have been with the city for decades, she says.

“These are people who have dedicated their lives to the service of the City of Prince Albert. These are people that have been proud to work for the City of Prince Albert and the employer has demeaned all of that.”

Lewis said she hopes the city comes back to the bargaining table to negotiate its proposed changes with the workers affected by them.

In the meantime, it looks like Prince Albert’s inside workers are heading back outside to the picket line.

“We will be picketing until a deal is ratified,” Lewis said.

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