REPORTING · 3rd March 2015
The Mountainview Square Parking Lot was packed with cars for Monday Night’s Council Meeting and a large crowd was yelling ‘shame’ as both Councillors and Administration walked through to Monday Night’s Council Meeting.
The striking District workers of Unifor 2300 and a throng of supporters placed their picket line outside Northwest Community College where the Kitimat City Council Chambers are located.
Several City Councillors chose to stay out. Councillor Claire Rattee joined the union members in conversation. “I just don’t cross picket lines so when I arrived and was asked to respect it, I did so,” Rattee told us after the meeting.
Councillor Edwin Empinado showed up and walked away from the meeting entirely. He told us it was because he was not feeling well, and he has mixed feelings between his mandate to support a fare collective agreement for the workers while at the same time being responsible to the tax payers. He stressed it would take time and dialogue and give and take patience, understanding, trust and respect.
“It is sad that we had come to this point,” said Councillor Edwin Empinado. “I do hear the concerns of our industrious workers. I affirm that there are things that we need to address and improve within our organization so that we could give them a safe and respectful working environment, a workplace to grow technically and professionally, and an opportunity to go up the ladder in our organization.
“I take a picket line extremely seriously and all the people that were there, I know, fellow citizens and they asked me politely please, they implored me, ‘please don’t cross our picket line,” and I’ve never crossed a picket line in my life,” said Councillor Rob Goffinet.
We were told, former CEP Union 298 President and City Councillor, Mary Murphy was asked to join the line and hold a sign. She went in. Other Councillors who chose to go in were Councillor’s Mario Feldhoff and Larry Walker. Mayor Phil Germuth also entered the chambers.
Members of the volunteer camera crew and media were permitted to cross the line to cover what was happening in Council.
During the meeting, we asked the Councillors present why they chose to cross the line. Mayor Phil Germuth stressed that, as Mayor, he had to chair the meeting.
“I don’t believe this is a District Facility and I’m not actually sure this is a place that can be picketed,” said Germuth.
“We do the town business at the Council Meeting,” said Councillor Mary Murphy. “What I’m hearing is, ‘We want to shut down the town and we want to shut down the Mayor and Council’ and you can’t do that.”
She asked how Council was supposed to address the presentation by the BC Hydro Transmission Line update which was presented earlier in the meeting. They will be holding an open house later this week. Murphy asked how town business, in this case, approving the minutes of the prior meetings, were supposed to take place.
“We were elected to represent everybody in the community,” said Germuth. “We still have to run Council Meetings and take care of all the other business.”
One presentation which was supposed to be at Council, a grant request for the Kildala Elementary School Playground, did not take place, although it was not explained if this was because of the picket line. One of the presenters from BC Hydro also refused to cross the line.
There were also two unscheduled presentations at Council, a presentation from the union leadership and a quick update to Council from the residents at the Alexander Town Houses.
Comment by mmurphy on 12th March 2015
Thank you Mr Madsen for you comments regarding you disappointment of myself. A little history you are aware of, but not many. When I first ran for council I was approached by caw to step away and not run, several of us were contacted and I quote, there will be rewards if you step away and there will be serious consequences if you run. Phil was one person who step away and I ran unsuccessfully for council Last election unifor did receive a letter from me requesting support, and request to address the executive. Both unifor and CLC after a lengthily discussion regarding this issue the request was denied, and the information was relayed to me. At that time I was no body…certainly not a union activist, and today: Sister Mary murphy, past president! Each one of us is responsible for their actions and I am very aware of these. I did speak to the picket line, through the chanting, and I believe you have that on video. How can we address your concerns and the public without being able to access the Council Chambers? As put forward by a long time caw/unifor member and I quote: I am an hourly employee at RTA for the last 34 years. I have been very active in our Union (CASAW/CAW/Unifor) for most of that time —having laid down my credentials, I have something to say...WOW! That seems incredibly stupid! To put up anything more then an information picket at the Council Chambers before a Council Meeting, and thus putting those who are most likely your allies in the dispute, especially Councillors, into the awkward position of either not crossing your line in a show of support but not being inside to defend you, or having to cross the line, thus appearing to disrespect you and your line in order to be on the inside where the decisions are being made! I think either a poor decision was made or poor advice was given to put anything more then an information picket outside the Council Chambers before/ during a Council Meeting. The very same message I tried to get across to executive, mayor and council directed the negotiating team, and how can I hold a sign against what we presented to you. Both the union and Unifor local 2300 are actively seeking a resolution to this issue and I am confident that a resolution is in sight. I wish you all the best, and know that I will still work hard to do what I have been elected to do, and follow my person beliefs in the purpose and commitments of unionism.
Comment by Vern on 3rd March 2015
Why would they picket the Dump ? they have no reason or right to be there and people will just dump trash in the woods. I do not agree with pickets at a Council meeting that will see people of this town verbally abused for trying to attend . I will honour picket lines but I want to see the union post the demands for all to see - the tax payers have a right to know.
Public Thank -you
Comment by Cliff Madsen on 3rd March 2015
I would like to publicly thank councillors Rattee, Goffinet and Empinato for respecting the line set up at last night`s Council meeting. Disputes such as this are very difficult for the families involved and in some cases others like Council will have to make decisions that impact their lives in small ways as well. A smile came to my face as I read Councillor Rattee`s comments when she said "I just don`t cross picket lines." It really doesn`t get any clearer than that.
As for the others on Council, I wasn`t surprised that Feldhoff ignored what was going on, I didn`t know about Walker (now I do), but Germuth and Murphy were quite surprising.
Germuth had a chance to speak to local people about a local issue given that he`s the "local guy" but he chose to cross that line and in doing so disrespect his local constituents. Call it what it is, he walked through those families and in doing so said that their issues were not important enough to stop and acknowledge them with a few encouraging words.
Mary Murphy is a funny one. She had the audacity to stand there, roll her eyes repeatedly and argue with the families present about crossing the line to save Kitimat, as if that meeting was so important that the town would come to an end without her. She walked through the line and never looked back. This is the same person who whined on public media that the Union never called her to some how endorse her in the last election. The same person who went public declaring her long standing allegiance to the Union movement on social media prior to the last election. This is the same person who has on many occasions referenced her previous Union experience to lend credibility to her cause. Finally, this is the same person who was a member and President of the CEP local at Eurocan. While on strike herself, she benefited from the kind support given by these same District workers during her strike trying to reach a new collective agreement with her employer.
At the time, the District workers broke all their own rules on limits and donated just under 20% of all the money they had in their Union`s account to the striking workers so that they could sustain their strike and negotiate improvements to their agreement.
Thanks Mary, it meant a lot to watch you walk by and turn your back on those families.
Comment by Cliff Madsen on 3rd March 2015
I know the Union has committed to providing the community with some of the information that has been out in the public eye and I`m sure this will come in due time.. The issue of picket lines, their purpose and the legalities are governed by the Labour Relations Board. In this dispute there have already been some essential services declared by the LRB which the Union is honoring.
The legislation provides for primary picketing at the normal places our members work and secondary picketing at places where others do business with a struck employer.
The Union has set up picket lines at the places they normally work which are full on picket lines. In addition, the Union has set up information lines at the exterior mall entrances and the dump which are there to show a presence to the public but are not full on picket lines. We hope that the public sees our presence, learns of our issues and let`s Council know that they support us in this dispute.
So in response to the points mentioned in an earlier post, the Union has no issue with members of the public going to the dump or going in the mall as our presence in these places is meant to keep our fight visible in the community.
Hopefully seeing our members in the public will remind people that these are the same workers we`ve praised in the past for the incredible dedication they`ve shown over the years.
Comment by Bob dont get it on 3rd March 2015
Why a line were the problem is trying to get solved?Just trying to understand this move. We as tax payers want people to earn a fair living and worry about every thing becoming privatised. But with that what's with the dump beaning picketed(yes I aware that it used to be district run around 10 years ago) hope this does lead to bush dumping! In all you have people confused with why demands are not out there for us as tax payers to say fair or you got to be kidding. With that I will honour picket lines and support the workers as a whole but just trying to get a read on this and hope this gets solved were both sides feel a deal can be had.