Is CUPE asking for too much in Nelson?

It’s a very public dispute at one of the Nelson area’s busiest locations.

It’s a very public dispute at one of the Nelson area’s busiest locations. If you swim, lift weights, play hockey or use any of the other services provided at the Nelson and District Community Complex, you’ve likely been impacted by the rotating strike and information picket that’s been set up in front of the facility since last Thursday. Even if you don’t, this dispute affects you.

Like almost all labour standoffs, the CUPE Local 2262 job action boils down to money. The 55 full and part-time employees at the complex want more and the Regional District of Central Kootenay says the well is dry.

The union is telling the public the RDCK “has the money” and the “economy supports it [wage increase].” They point to a $14.7 million budget surplus in 2012 and the fact their request for an extra one per cent wage hike (the RDCK is already offering one per cent) will only cost the local government $10,000.

These types of disputes generally become a war of words where facts are used as the weapons of battle. This situation is no different.

The RDCK does indeed run surplus budgets. They do it because a deficit budget is against provincial law. The Community Charter does not allow municipalities to operate in the red and there are times when the results are too conservative. RDCK administration points out the surplus is spread over 200-plus services in the region. They can’t pull cash out of one envelope and add it to another. That’s not how it works.

And though it may be a mere $10,000, in these times of fiscal restraint we’ve seen local government cut other services in order to save even less. Look no further than the City of Nelson axing the Heritage Commission budget earlier this year by $7,500 which resulted in getting rid of heritage consultant Bob Inwood. (The heritage body has since been rolled together with the Cultural Development Commission.) Every penny apparently counts.

Public sector disputes boil down to the responsible spending of taxpayer dollars. As we have seen at all levels of government, elected officials are holding a strong line against wage increases. With the private sector struggling  and the economy still flailing, it’s the right course to take. At some point the public is going to stand up and say enough is enough.

We value the work being done by the Nelson and District Community Complex employees. It is an important service in our community. But when business owners are struggling to make ends meet on Baker Street, it doesn’t make sense to ask for more.