CUPE members at the Municipality of Highlands East say they are closer to a strike after conciliation talks failed to reach an agreement.

Eric Bell, CUPE communications representative, said Local 4416 filed a request for a “no board” report, which could put the workers in a legal strike position by early July.

CUPE 4416 represents 30 members at the municipality, who work to maintain roads, provide clean water, run parks and recreation facilities, manage the landfill and keep administrative operations running.

“We have tried to reach an agreement with the employer, but unfortunately, they are still not willing to move away from unfair proposals and haven’t committed to addressing the serious concerns that we have with harassment and violence in the workplace,” said CUPE Local 4416 president Rick Huffman. “Our local is actively preparing for a strike, but we are hopeful that the employer will return to the table to negotiate a deal for members that is fair and equitable.”

The union said the employer has made unfair demands that would give them the ability to change workers’ hours and days of work with minimal notice.

“This is an unfair proposal that will make it impossible for our members to make plans outside of work,” Huffman said. “Imagine not knowing if you were going to be called in to be forced to work on Saturday, week after week, and not being able to make plans for your kids’ hockey trip, dance recital or birthday party?”

The union said another issue is the continued incidences of workplace harassment and violence directed towards workers from management. “A recent independent investigation found multiple incidences of harassment and even violence by a manager to be true, but the municipality has done nothing to prevent further incidences. Harassment in the workplace has continued, and the municipality has refused to investigate new allegations. Municipal councillors have been informed and asked by the union to intervene but have not responded to multiple letters requesting they do so,” the union said.

“The continued harassment in the workplace from management towards our members is unacceptable, and needs to end,” Huffman said. “We need a commitment from the employer to ending workplace harassment and live up to their obligation to provide a safe workplace, and to negotiate a fair deal to avoid a strike.”

Mayor Dave Burton, on behalf of the municipality, said, “it is unfortunate that the union has chosen to make threats of strike rather than devoting their efforts to concluding a collective agreement. The municipality has made best efforts to reach a renewed collective agreement and has offered a monetary package that provides for significant wage increases and improvements to benefits for all employees, over a fouryear period.” He added the offer is consistent with other recent municipal settlements in the County of Haliburton.

“The union has made a variety of allegations, some of which are the subject matter of grievances and are not part of the collective bargaining process,” Burton added. “The union has publicly raised this issue as a contributing factor to a potential strike but has not raised them at the bargaining table.

“The municipality will continue to make best efforts to reach a renewed collective agreement in the interests of the public, who we serve. If the union decides to commence a strike, we expect to continue operations, as best we can, and will keep members of the public updated.”