Union, Wellesley in tough battle for new contract

Unhappy with the negotiation process in pursuit of a new contract, the union representing Wellesley Township’s outside workers is taking its complaints public.

The township and the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 1542 (CUPE 1542), which represents a dozen employees in the recreation and public works departments, are currently working on a new collective agreement. The president of Local 1542, Chris Roth, says the township has tabled a “long list of  concessions,” including cuts to benefits, vacation time and a clothing allowance, elimination of overtime and scheduling changes as well as rewriting of job classifications.

“They want to rewrite our entire collective agreement, which we have negotiated over 47 years. By hurting the people who help maintain our public parks and sports fields, who repair potholes and plow snow, the council is hurting the people who live and work in our community. When you reduce compensation and degrade working conditions, you end up undermining the quality of the services these workers provide,” Roth said in a statement.

The union also takes issue with a member of the township’s negotiating team, labour consultant Ken Godevenos, noting his “long record of sexist, racist, anti-union, Islamophobic and anti-LGBTQ posts on his Twitter account, alongside an ongoing stream of COVID vaccine disinformation.”

CUPE is not the first union to point out Godevenos’ stances on a variety of issues. The consultant has become a controversial figure for it.

In a recent online post, for instance, Godevenos lays out a conspiracy-laded rationale for why he hasn’t been vaccinated against COVID-19.

“I personally believe that the heavy-handedness of the powers that be, going against common rights of individuals, employees, businessowners, churches, etc., and pushing like mad to get everyone vaccinated indicates either a bad strategy, or a hidden agenda. Their [sic] instilling fear to the extent that they have and then rewarding people for taking the shots indicates their inability to have any logic and reason, let alone science, behind them. In that sense I would say, ‘The left doth push too much, methinks.’”

“The council is displaying poor judgement here. They have hired someone who’s been a bully in bargaining, whose approach in negotiations mirrors his social media presence – completely divorced from reality,” said Roth of employing Godevenos, an unprecedented move in negotiations for Local 1542, which also represents municipal workers in Woolwich and Waterloo.

“We haven’t had a consultant brought in our local that I’m aware of, between Woolwich, Waterloo and Wellesley, which are all three separate contracts covered by 1542. Our concern has been at this point, why has the township decided to back a consultant with such out-of-touch views with reality? Given the state of the world these days with COVID, it should be inclusiveness, and they’ve hired and chosen to stand behind the negotiating team and the consultant with the anti-LGBTQ views, Islamophobia rhetoric and anti-vaccine stances,” said Roth.

For its part, the township is standing behind Godevenos, refusing to remove him from the negotiations.

“As a consultant, Mr. Godevenos has exhibited only professional behaviour in attempts to reach a fair settlement. No concerns have been raised by CUPE with respect to Mr. Godevenos during the numerous meetings that have occurred between the respective negotiating teams since February 2021. All opinions expressed on Mr. Godevenos’ personal social media channels are his alone, and not a reflection of the municipality,” said Mayor Joe Nowak in a statement.

The 12 Wellesley outside workers represented by Local 1542 have been without a contract since the start of the year. In the summer, the members were unanimous in voting to give the union a strike mandate.

Negotiations have been going on since February, but both sides remain far apart in negotiations, with a provincial conciliator brought in last month.

“Many of the concessions are still there. They include things such as cutbacks on vacation benefit reductions, specifically in the orthodontic area for families and children, and changes to work schedules,” said Roth.

“Their standpoint is very firm. And so is ours. It’s been a tough one.”

“Amendments to the collective agreement are being pursued that would ensure staff are available to carry out winter operations when required. Proposed changes would have a positive effect on public services by  providing scheduled work hours that reflect the required maintenance standards. The negotiating team  continues to engage in good faith negotiations with CUPE. Council supports the bargaining position that is being pursued by the negotiating team,” said Nowak in a statement.

Talks resumed this week.

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