Unionized workers at the Nelson and District Community Complex have reached a tentative deal with the Regional District of Central Kootenay.
The agreement, brokered this week between CUPE Local 2262 and management, calls for a four-year contract retroactive to 2011 with wage increases of one per cent in the first year, 1.5 per cent in the second, and cost of living in the third and fourth years, expected to be closer to two per cent.
Previously the union asked for a two-year deal with cost of living adjustments in both years while the regional district countered with two and three-year offers with one per cent increases in each year, in line with agreements with other employee groups.
The union membership is expected to ratify the agreement Saturday and the regional district board at its regular meeting October 18. Both sides are recommending acceptance.
An information picket that went up at the complex last month has been lifted. During the strike, rotating action saw arena, pool, fitness, maintenance, and front office staff walk out at different times, but the facility was never shut down altogether.
CUPE national rep Steve Stringfellow said the agreement came together over the phone Tuesday night with RDCK chief administrator Jim Gustafson, and the bargaining committees met Wednesday afternoon and evening, resulting in a memorandum of understanding.
“We stood up for the idea that anything less than cost of living [increase] is a rollback,” Stringfellow told the Star. “We do see it as a compromise. We obviously fell behind the first few years. Making sure we keep up with cost of living is a major goal and having a guarantee for the next two years is definitely satisfactory.”
Stringfellow thanked complex users for their patience and said he was relieved the dispute did not go further. “It’s a last resort getting into job action for the union,” he said. “We don’t want to affect public services, but it’s the only way we have to get a message across.”
RDCK administrator Jim Gustafson said he is satisfied they reached a “reasonable arrangement” although management had to sweeten its offer by agreeing to 1.5 per cent in the second year.
“That was very controversial and at the end of the day we did budge a half a point,” he said. “We were quite adamant at the beginning on the one-and-one because 2010 was a difficult year. But the union met us halfway on that second year and that’s what negotiating is about. Wasn’t the end of the world from my perspective, and if it meant getting the deal, it was worth it.”
Gustafson said he’s pleased the facility will remain open pending ratification and hopes matters will soon return to normal for the next two years.
The numbers game
During the dispute, CUPE pointed to wage increases in neighbouring regional districts as closer to what they were seeking — Columbia-Shuswap saw an average increase of 1.88 per cent in each year of an agreement that runs from 2011-14, East Kootenay a two per cent average from 2010-12, and Kootenay Boundary a 1.8 per cent increase from 2011-13.
Further west, Sicamous and District Recreation Centre staff received an average increase of 2.88 per cent each year from 2011-14.
Currently staff at the Nelson rec centre make between $14.74 and $29.18 per hour. Jobs are divided into permanent benefitted and casual non-benefitted.
Among the first group, hourly wages range from $17.95 for lifeguard supervisor to $29.18 for operations supervisor. In the second group, the pay scale ranges from $14.74 per hour for child minders to $23.88 for certain aquatic instructors.
Other occupations include custodians, lifeguards, swim and fitness instructors, and facility operators. CUPE represents 55 staff at the complex, 12 of whom are full-time and the rest part-time and casual.
The last contract expired in February 2011. Despite several rounds of talks this year, including two days with mediator Mark Atkinson, the union issued strike notice on September 11. Job action began ten days later.