The Weyburn Police Association’s bargaining committee went public with their grievances after an attempt to have conciliation for their contract talks with the City of Weyburn failed.
Mayor Debra Button, chair of the Weyburn Board of Police Commissioners, was highly critical of the move, and said she did not appreciate having terms of the negotiation being told to the media.
The WPA met on Wednesday evening to hold a strike vote, with 12 of 17 members present to vote, and the members voted unanimously for a strike, even though legally the police are not allowed to strike as they are considered an “essential service” by the provincial government.
At the base of their disagreement with the city is the rate of pay, which the Weyburn police say is nine per cent lower than that of a comparable city like Estevan and Moose Jaw; both of those cities are at 93 per cent of the pay level for Regina police.
“Weyburn is a growing and vibrant city. A Weyburn police officer is a professionally trained police officer just like every other municipal police officer in the province, and the men and women of the WPA deserve to be paid the same as their counterparts in cities like Estevan, Moose Jaw and Regina,” said Const. Shane St. John, president of the WPA.
“The membership has directed the WPA bargaining committee to approach the Weyburn Board of Police Commissioners and ask them to agree to go to third part binding arbitration,” he added.
The vote was taken because the effort to have their impasse conciliated did not work, said Bernie Eiswirth, executive officer for the Saskatchewan Federation of Police Officers.
He explained that Labour minister Don Morgan appointed a conciliator, Jim Jeffries, who came to Weyburn on Oct. 29 and met with both sides in an effort to find some common ground and settle the labour dispute.
“In his opinion, the two parties are at an impasse. However, his report is not binding; his role was to bring common sense to the bargaining process and to get both sides to be more reasonable,” said Eiswirth.
With the vote, a letter was drafted and sent to the Police Commission board, asking for binding arbitration, or else make a more reasonable offer akin to what the Weyburn police are asking for.
Mayor Button said she had not yet received the letter, and did not appreciate learning about the police association’s request through a member of the media.
“I reiterate that it is my belief that contract negotiations are very important, not only for the Weyburn Police Service but for all the people who work for the City of Weyburn. I also believe that negotiations should not be conducted through the media,” said Mayor Button.
Eiswirth said with the current labour legislation, the police are told on one hand they cannot strike as they are an essential service, and on the other hand, they can only go to binding arbitration if both sides agree to it. If the Police Commission does not agree to arbitration, there is very little else the police can do but put public pressure on the Police Commission to resolve the dispute, unless the government makes a change to their essential services legislation.
Of the contract talks, the mayor said the city has offered the police a “fair and respectable settlement”, without getting into monetary details.
Representing city council on the Police Commission, she said the city has to be fiscally responsible, and the city has to make sure they have the funds to be able to pay for everything without going into a deficit situation.
Asked about the disparity between Estevan and Weyburn salary levels, Mayor Button refused to comment on it, saying instead that the city appreciates the work that the Weyburn Police Service does for the community.
“It’s unfortunate that the negotiations have been brought to the media. I would hope the WPS will come back to the negotiating table,” said the mayor.
The WPA and the Weyburn Board of Police Commissioners have been bargaining since June 20; the police department’s contract expired on Dec. 31, 2011.