A small town in northern Ontario is the focus of a province-wide spotlight, as its mayor becomes further embroiled in a battle with city staff.
Bonfield, Ont., is a town of about 2,000 residents located just southeast of North Bay. When negotiations with city staff hit a wall earlier this summer, its mayor decided to bypass the bargaining process and impose his own contract on about 16 employees. That prompted a strike by the local Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) chapter – who have been off the job ever since.
The dispute boiled over in September, when Mayor Randall McLaren fired one-third of striking workers. Five municipal workers were let go, McLaren said, because they tried to prevent two local councillors from attending a meeting with the mayor. Council had been attempting to meet to figure out how get city services back up and running (think recycling, by-law enforcement and road maintenance), which were suspended because of the strike.
On Oct. 5, workers from about a dozen other national unions, including the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union (OPSEU) and the United Steelworkers (USW), bussed into Bonfield to protest the mayor’s so-called “draconian” tactics.
“There’s a real democratic deficit here,” said Fred Hahn, president of CUPE Ontario.
Concerns left on the bargaining table include seniority, training, employment security, scheduling, vacation, sick leave and benefits. Those workers still employed by the city also indicated they will not sign a collective agreement until the five who were fired are reinstated.
“This is a microcosm,” said Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL). “The battles we are fighting here are the battles we are fighting right across Ontario – concessions at the bargaining table, attempts to rip apart our collective agreements, attempts to destroy the labour movement. Your fight is the fight of every worker in the province.”
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