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Lindsay Post (ON)
Tue 05 Feb 2008
Page: A1
Section: Front
Byline: John Chambers

Providing benefits for employees who choose to work beyond the age of 65 will be the “defining issue” in the current strike by about 400 Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 855 members in Kawartha Lakes, says the union’s president Sid Ryan.

While wages, contracting out services and job security have been the most prominent items put forward by the local union to date, in an interview with The Post late Monday, Ryan said the strike is not about money.

“The defining issue in this strike is going to be benefits for retirees, and it is becoming a major issue for unions all across Ontario,” he said. “We have been looking at this issue in our union for quite some time, and when the McGuinty government eliminated mandatory retirement what they did was open up this Pandora’s Box where people now rightfully want to work beyond the age of 65.”

Employers are basically saying you can work beyond 65 if you want to but we’re not going to pay you your benefits if you do that, Ryan suggested. And in some cases, the CUPE president said employees are being told by employers and the government that they may not be eligible for Worker’s Compensation.

“So if you’ve got an accident on the job there is some doubt right now whether you’re able to apply for Worker’s Compensation,” said Ryan. “So there are two major issues that affect every worker in the province potentially.”

Ryan said the issue is one that has the entire labour movement casting its eyes upon the City of Kawartha Lakes to see how the issue is addressed, noting the far reaching consequences of the outcome across the province.

“This local has now taken on an issue that will have significance for ever single worker in the province,” said Ryan. “We are now working on this issue on many tables and in many forms through grievances and arbitration all across Ontario, not just CUPE but every union.

“So now we have a strike on this very issue which elevates the importance of this strike basically to every worker in the province, (and) it now becomes a significant defining moment with how we deal with these issues because it will establish jurist prudence and when arbitrators look at this case they will see that a strike took place over the payment of benefits and show the outcome. This is going to be quite a significant issue for all workers which means the whole labour movement will be watching what happens in Kawartha Lakes.”

City officials had expressed disappointment over the weekend union members weren’t provided the opportunity to vote on the proposed 10 per cent wage increase over the next three years. Ryan dismissed their disappointment, adding wages aren’t the issue.

“The employer is whistling in the wind if they want to talk about employees didn’t vote on the wage increase,” Ryan said. “The wage increase is not the issue for our members, it is not the defining moment; that is not the reason they went out on strike.”

Ryan said the amount of money it would cost to ensure workers have benefits beyond 65 is “miniscule” and said the city doesn’t have a financial argument.

“The city does not have any arguments for the residents of the City of Kawartha Lakes. The amount of money it would cost to give those people who want to work beyond the age of 65 benefits that would already be covered more than likely in the form of a benefit plan that the city already has, the cost to the city would be miniscule.”

Ryan said he fully expected the union would have their demands met.
“We’re not going to be starved out,” he said. “We’re not going to allow our people to be beaten into submission – that won’t happen.”

Ryan accused the city of “petty politics” and suggested it was time for Kawartha Lakes mayor Ric McGee to “step up to the plate”.

“What is the objective of this council,” Ryan questioned. “It is basically petty politics behind the scenes, a lot of petty politics that we are hearing between different managers, the mayor, the human resources department. There is all sorts of politics going on behind the scenes, and that sort of fits the picture for me because at the end of the day there is really no big issue that they should be going to war on.”

Ryan made a public appeal for the mayor to intervene in the matter and get negotiations back on track.

“I am publicly calling for the mayor to intervene here before this gets into a situation where tensions get really, really high and there is a lot of bad blood goes under the bridge,” he said. “The mayor needs to get involved sooner rather than later before the whole situation becomes poisoned. I am calling publicly for the mayor to meet with a delegation from CUPE to say that we have to get this thing sorted out.

“The mayor has to step in and take charge and take control otherwise it is going to be a long, long, long strike,” Ryan warned.