An MRC des Collines employee strike caused quite a stir at the Wakefield community centre April 19, as the centre called the police on the “rowdy but friendly” bunch of protesters.
About 20 MRC des Collines employees attempted to hijack a tourism forum event that was taking place at the centre April 19.
According to community centre client services manager Laura Birks, when the union representing the employees booked a room at the Wakefield community centre the same day as the tourism forum was being held there, the union was dishonest about what type of event they were hosting.
“They lied,” said Birks, explaining that, when the Syndicat des travailleuses et des travailleurs de la MRC des Collines-de-l’Outaouais booked a room in the centre, they said it was for a zumba class.
“There was 30 or 40 of them [at the front of the centre] and then they came [to the back of the centre] it was a party. They were banging on the doors and banging on the windows. They were being pretty respectful, but it was disruptive at times.”
Birks said that, had the centre known that the union was booking a room for MRC picketers, they never would have rented the space to them.
When police arrived, they told union president Mathieu Trepanier to ensure the protests remained civil, and by 1 p.m. the employees had dispersed. When asked why the union booked the room as a zumba class, Trepanier told the Low Down that they were expecting a zumba instructor to join the protests, but she had to work — not at the MRC.
“We were supposed to have a zumba instructor, but she works with the federal government and she’s on strike, so she couldn’t join us,” he said.
When pressed further, he said the booking was for the strike, however the centre maintains that nobody at the union explained there would be picketers and protests. “It was for the strike with zumba. We wanted to do a zumba activity.”
Strikers want inflation protection
While union president Trepanier would not disclose the details of negotiations, he said that what MRC employees are asking for on their new contract are “reasonable demands.” He said one thing the union is fighting for is inflation protection on its new contract.
“It’s been 13 months since we have been negotiating and, sadly, our employer doesn’t want to recognize that we have rights,” said Trepanier. “We just wanted a bit more and to protect our rights and they are trying to chip away at some of our rights that we had, especially on the monetary side. We just want them to do their part. We did ours. Especially now with the situation with inflation. We don’t get it. We want to negotiate. We already had inflation protection and now we want to keep it.”
Unionized employees have twice voted down offers from the MRC and, by press time, had staged a second day of protests in the region.
MRC des Collines Prefect Marc Carrière told the Low Down that he feels the salaries and working conditions at the MRC are the best in the municipal sector of the Outaouais, noting that the lowest salary for an MRC des Collines employee is $58,000. He said the latest offer is equitable for both employees and taxpayers.
“The offer we made I think is generous and fair for the workers, but also for the people who pay their salaries,” said Carrière. “Everybody has to deal with the rise in the mortgage interest and inflation. It’s true for the workers, but it’s also true for the taxpayers too. People with low income and elders, their salaries are lower than the workers in the MRC.”
Carrière said he wasn’t able to disclose the offer made, as they are still in negotiation, but he said that the offer does include a 6.5 per cent inflation protection clause for 2023.
Trepanier said that, while employees are striking, essential services at the MRC are still being maintained, including police and the courts system. Property assessments, administration and development projects are on hold until the union and the MRC agree on a new deal.