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Halifax Water back to the table

by Robert Devet

After a month-long lockout and on the heels of a large rally at City Hall negotiations between CUPE and Halifax Water management will resume maybe as early as tomorrow. Photo Trevor Beckerson
After a month-long lockout and on the heels of a large rally at City Hall negotiations between CUPE and Halifax Water management will resume maybe as early as tomorrow. Photo Trevor Beckerson
Back to the table, tweets Halifax Water
Back to the table, tweets Halifax Water

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) - Halifax Water workers and management are going back to bargaining table.

The Halifax Water Workers, members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), have been walking the picket line for well over a month now.

The issues are wages, and major changes to pension plan proposed by management. Changes that amount to very substantial cuts to their pension benefits that the union claims are not necessary.

So far management had rejected the union's counter-proposals out of hand.

But an exchange of tweets between CUPE spokesperson John McCracken and Halifax Water point to a change in attitude.

"Halifax Water has made a 'formal offer' to CUPE to return to the bargaining table," the @Halifaxwater tweet stated

Even this morning Halifax Water still denied that it had even received any proposal to resume negotiations.

But the union confirms that the impasse has broken.

“Bottom line is we're going back to the table,” McCracken tells the Halifax Media Co-op. 'The only way we're going to get a deal is at the table.”

But McCracken offers an important caution.

A negotiated settlement by its very definition means that both sides negotiate, i.e. move from their position,” says McCracken. “Saying that we must accept their last offer is not negotiating.”

Last Tuesday Mayor Mike Savage offered workers a glimmer of hope that discussions between the two parties might resume.

After last Tuesday's large rally at City Hall Dave Dort, president of CUPE Local 227 and Todd Masters, former president and member of the bargaining team, had a quick conversation with Halifax Mayor Mike Savage.

Savage, together with three councilors, is a member of the Halifax Water Board of Governors. He can leverage that power to get Halifax Water back to the table.

“Mayor Savage thanked us for being respectful during the Council meeting,” Dort tells the Halifax Media Co-op. “Then Todd asked him if he would look at our proposal, because we think our proposal could really resolve the dispute. And he made a commitment that he would,” says Dort.

Through province-appointed conciliator Christina Browning CUPE yesterday received word that the employer is not prepared to go back to the table, Dort says.

But now all that has changed.

Two important factors remain in play while the negotiations now resume.

There is a strong suspicion among the union leadership that a larger agenda is driving the discussions. Pension cuts are being forced upon Halifax Water workers so as to make all Halifax unionized workers, be they city staff, police or firefighters, follow suit.

“I don't even think that (Halifax Water General Manager) Yates or the bargaining team are in charge anymore. We think and that is the consensus here, that the shots are being called by the mayor and (CAO) Richard Butts,” Dort says.

But meanwhile union members also believe that it is becoming harder for management and scab workers to continue to operate the waste water facilities, adding pressure on management to resolve the dispute.

Halifax Water has not responded to Halifax Media Co-op questions since May 14th.

Follow Robert Devet on Twitter @DevetRobert



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