No lockout at library and gallery; Lambton imposes new contract instead

JNAAG photo via Facebook Patrons wait to get into the new Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery in Sarnia earlier this year. A county council committee has nixed the idea of an admission fee for the new gallery for now.

JNAAG photo via Facebook
Staff at the art gallery have a new four year contract but the union didn’t negotiate it; Lambton County imposed a new deal instead of locking the art gallery and library workers out.

Lambton County says it didn’t want to lock out its library and art gallery staff tonight so, in an unusual move, it has imposed a new four-year contract.

The 55 members of the Communications Energy and Paperworkers Union Local 65 have been without a contract since December. The county and the union have met four times trying to reach an agreement. Sixteen days ago, the Ontario Labour Relations Board issued a no-board report, clearing the way for either a strike or a lockout.

David Cribbs, general manager of corporate services, says talks with the union had been difficult. “In the past seven months we’ve negotiated seven collective agreements with other groups …and they’re all 1 percent and 1.5 percent,” he says. “We couldn’t come close to that with this group….if you don’t have a willing dance partner you have to dance solo.”

Cribbs met with the staff of the Sarnia Public Library and the Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery today to outline the new contract terms. There is an immediate salary increase of one per cent retroactive to January, with another one percent in each of the next four years

The county says the sick leave benefit paid out on retirement will end with people who have banked sick days being paid out at the end of the current year. Cribbs says none of the other 1175 county employees have this benefit.

Cribbs acknowledged it isn’t often contracts are imposed. “We were concerned we were already headed toward a strike…and our staff has a constitution right to strike. We hope that what we’ve offered is sufficiently fair…to avoid that outcome,” he says. “We’ve really laid all our cards out on the table…this is what we were prepared to negotiate to and this is what we are prepared to live with; are they?”

CEP National Rep Glen Sonier was somewhat surprised by the move saying the union was not about to disrupt service at the library and gallery. In fact, he says, negotiations are scheduled for Monday. “Everybody was satisfied we were not going on strike,” he says.

Sonier adds the monetary issues are not the employees primary concern. “(The imposed contract) is a legal thing that they could do; it’s something that’s not used because employers hold out to the fact they want to work with the union…in the end you want to get people back to work and have a relationship,” says Sonier. “The relationship has been gone in this place for a while…we have issues with bullying and dictating sort of style and this is another clear indication of the employer which wants to have its way.”

Sonier says the union executive will meet this evening to decide the next steps. Lambton County official say if the union goes on strike Saturday morning, the library and the art gallery will remain closed. Any resources borrowed in Sarnia could be returned to other Lambton County branches.

– Heather Wright