Unions rally behind locked out Kensington employees

Colin MacLean
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CUPE leaders pledge national support for six locked out workers

KENSINGTON – Being on a picket line when you’re part of a small union local can be a lonely feeling, so it’s always nice to get some encouragement, remarked Leslie Thomas on Friday.

“I’ve been in the workforce for a lot of years – I’ve been through a few strikes, but never a lockout. It’s great to see so much support, not only from the locals around P.E.I. but from the national level. They’ve been very kind – it’s been very difficult for all of us this time of year to be locked out of our jobs,” said Thomas.

He is one of six unionized employees with the Town of Kensington who were locked out of their jobs earlier this week; six other members are police officers and exempt from the lockout. Conciliated negotiations with their employer recently broken down with both sides giving “final offers.”

According to the union, outstanding issues that prompted its rejection of the town’s counter-offer deal were on-call pay for part-time officers, wages and the contract’s duration.

On Friday, about 30 members from various local unions, but mostly from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), rallied in support of the Kensington workers.

It just so happened that CUPE was holding regional level meetings in Summerside this week, so some of the union brass was on hand to lend their voices in support.

People like Paul Moist, national CUPE president, who had some fighting words for town Mayor Gordon Coffin.

“I say to the mayor of Kensington that we did not ask for this fight, but we’re not going to accept you pushing us around. We want a fair agreement and we’re going to be on the picket line until we get a fair collective agreement for the locked out workers,” said Moist.

There were several speakers during the short rally, most of them focusing on the time of year and how unfortunate it was that the lockout happened three weeks before Christmas.

Danny Legere, president of CUPE New Brunswick, vowed the support of his 30,000 members should the lockout drag on.

“As soon as this started to develop my phone started to ring. How dare your council and mayor lock you out three weeks before Christmas. Our members and our leaders have been calling me asking ‘when are we putting the buses on?’” said Legere.

Geoff Baker, town chief administrative officer, expressed regret earlier this week that the town felt it had no choice but to lock out the workers now, and added that council was hoping for a swift end to the dispute.

“It’s a difficult situation we’re in. We’d like to think that this matter is going to be settled in short order and that all employees are going to be back to work in short order and collecting pay accordingly,” said Baker during a recent interview. 

“It would be our hope that this is over long in advance of Christmas.”

To help the Kensington six through the Christmas season, CUPE leaders also brought along a cheque for about $1,200 to help top up the local’s strike pay.   

The money and the show of support is greatly appreciated, but he and his colleagues would just like to get back to work, said Thomas.

“No one wants to do this – none of us do. But we feel it has to be done,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s a nice feeling on either side – nobody wanted this. So it’s discouraging times. But we’ll get through,” he said.

CUPE and the town have agreed to go back to the bargaining table on Monday to try and end the lockout.  

Colin.MacLean@JournalPioneer.com

@JournalPMacLean

Organizations: Canadian Union of Public Employees

Geographic location: Kensington, P.E.I., Summerside

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