K'jipuktuk (Halifax) - Members of the Nova Scotia Union of Public and Private Employees (NSUPE) local 22 continued their second week on strike by picketing outside of city hall today in Halifax. The 25-member local are the maintenance and cleaning staff at Cole Harbour Place, which, while the Halifax Regional Municipality claims is managed by a private board of directors, is an HRM-owned building.
Determining whether local 22 are indeed city employees, or employees of a private company, is of particular relevance when placing them within the salary scale of municipal employees. Many of them make only $10.37 an hour, significantly less than a city employee. On the other hand, workers in similar capacities at private buildings, according to research done by NSUPE, earn substantially more than $10.37 as well.
According to John Hanrahan, president of the NSUPE, there is no difference between the HRM and the board of directors at Cole Harbour Place. To Hanrahan, HRM's inaction, coupled with Cole Harbour Place's decision to now utilize scab workers, is a one-two punch keeping the workers he represents in a poverty-line situation.
“Cole Harbour Place's board of directors is represented by a councillor [Lorelei Nicoll - District 4, Cole Harbour] on HRM and we feel that the board of directors and HRM are more or less one," says Hanrahan. "So these workers are looking for more parity with people that do similar jobs in HRM. Many of them make $10.37 an hour, which, depending on their situation, puts them below the low-income cutoff. It's ridiculous in this day and age that these workers, that are basically city workers and provide a valuable service to the community, have to be subjected to this...to be forced on strike, and attempted to be forced to take a poverty-line contract by the use of strike breakers used by HRM and Cole Harbour Place management.
"It's an HRM building, [and] an HRM councillor sits on the board that does the management. [Local 22] receive HRM pay stubs [and] the few of them that do receive pensions and benefits are in the HRM pension plan. And yet HRM claims that this board is an arm's length entity. And that legally may be the case, but morally and practically it's not. They are city workers."
John Mason, president of local 22 and an employee at Cole Harbour Place, has experienced first-hand the difficulties of working for poverty-line wages. And on a day where Halifax mayor Peter Kelly was conspicuously absent from city hall due to his involvement in the Halifax "concert scandal", a situation in which hundreds of thousands of dollars of public money remains unaccounted for, Mason doesn't see his union's request as high-handed in the least.
"We have people that have been here for 20 to 30 years, and [are] just making above minimum wage, says Mason. "We just didn't think that anybody within the building should be making less than $12 an hour. We asked for a $1.40 raise over four years, and that's pennies compared to what some people have asked for."
NSUPE urges concerned citizens to sign the following petition in support of its striking workers.