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Conciliation talks fail for Fort Smith, UNW
Union president says strike inevitable unless town moves on contracting issue

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Saturday, June 2, 2012

THEBACHA/FORT SMITH
A full day with a conciliator has failed to settle an impasse in contract negotiations between the Town of Fort Smith and its unionized workers.

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Todd Parsons: Union of Northern Workers president says no progress was made during May 30 conciliation talks with the Town of Fort Smith. - NNSL file photo

Todd Parsons, president of the Union of Northern Workers (UNW), said the two sides were unable to reach a tentative agreement with the assistance of a federal conciliation officer on May 30.

Parsons said the primary issue remains the employer's unwillingness to provide protection for the membership against contracting out their work.

The union president added a strike is "inevitable" unless the town changes its position.

"That's still the primary issue or the stumbling block," he said. "I do believe that the other issues we'll be able to resolve. However, with this primary issue still outstanding, I would say that it is inevitable that a strike will occur sometime this summer."

Parsons said no future contract talks are scheduled.

"However, the union's door remains open if the employer is interested to go back to the table and resolve the primary issue satisfactorily to the UNW membership employed by the Town of Fort Smith," he said.

Mayor Janie Hobart confirmed there was no change as a result of conciliation.

"I know that they met all day and tried to work on any outstanding issues," she said, noting she had been hopeful in advance of the conciliation talks.

Hobart is still hopeful the matter can be settled without a work stoppage and is also hopeful more talks might be possible under the conciliation process.

"It would be nice if we could settle it for everybody's sake," she said.

Neither Hobart nor Parsons were at the conciliation talks, which involved each side's negotiating team.

Parsons explained it is a moving timeline for when a strike might start.

He said, the conciliation officer has 60 days under the Canada Labour Code to "book out" meaning to make a report to the federal minister of Labour but that report can commonly take as little as a few days.

There is also a required 21-day cooling-off period, and a strike or lockout would require an additional 72-hour notice.

Parsons noted the town and the union are currently working on an essential service agreement in the event of a strike, adding that agreement may be concluded by early this week.

It is a requirement under the Canada Labour Code that essential services be provided during a work stoppage.

Hobart noted the town is preparing for the possibility of a strike. "We have determined what areas we feel are essential, that have to be carried out for health and safety reasons," she said. "We have a contingency plan, which we hope we will not have to use."

Even though contracting out has been the major issue in talks, the town is not currently contracting work normally done by the approximately 70 members of the bargaining unit.

However, contracting has happened in the past for such work as snow removal, water delivery, garbage pickup, grave digging, sewage pump-out, and operation of the landfill, arena and pool.

On May 10, the unionized workers overwhelmingly voted in favour of a strike.

Negotiations began in January for a new contract. The old three-year contract expired on Dec. 31.

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