The parking lot outside of the Town Hall in Saint-Anicet was packed as of 7 pm on July 4. It was next to impossible for citizens who had come to attend the regular municipal council meeting as municipal employees had blocked the street at the entrance to the Town Hall. In manoeuvring between the many cars as well as employees waving small flags with the emblem for the Canadian Union of Public Employees, you could hear their frustrations with the slow pace of negotiations over their collective agreement, which expired over two years ago.
Concern was first raised with citizens a few weeks previous, when three councilors, Marius Trépanier, Alain Fournier and Jean Roblain, collectively mailed a notice to all residents indicting Mayor Alain Castagner’s administration. The document, which indicated a number of issues primarily affecting taxpayers, sounded the alarm over a number of topics, including the budget, which they had refused to adopt, overtime, an operating deficit of tens of thousands of dollars relating to waste collection and recycling contracts with Elgin and Sainte-Barbe, the reopening of the branch collection site, the secrecy surrounding the overall amount of municipal employee wages, etc.
A statement issued by the union quickly followed the councilors’ mailing. The press release stressed municipal employees’ discouragement and harmful work environment brought about for the blue and white-collar workers following remarks made by elected officials since the last election. It was noted that following two years without response from the municipality, members of the union were left with little choice but to bring their complaint before the Ministry of Labour in order to start negotiations. The union also deplored the hiring of a lawyer as a negotiator, which will result in additional costs to the municipality.
During the regular meeting of the municipal council, Mayor Alain Castagner suggested it was normal practice for the municipality to be represented by a lawyer, and that four or five meetings with the union had already taken place. According to the Mayor, it would be far more costly for the municipality to sign onto a bad agreement for five years, and he pointed out, legal counsel also represents the union.
As far as waste and recycling collection performed by Saint-Anicet employees in Elgin and Sainte-Barbe, whose contracts were recently found to be insufficient. The Mayor said these contracts would be renegotiated at a higher rate when they expire and that spending on the new municipal garage is the problem. Alain Castagner added it was also important to consider the fact they have to take care of “our” employees…
In the end, the council meeting ended peacefully and without recrimination on the part of union representatives. Now more informed, the citizens present were able to take away a better understanding of the realities facing the municipality and were able to better gauge the either side’s arguments.
Denise St-Germain, volunteer correspondent for the Haut-Saint-Laurent
Translated by Sarah Rennie, volunteer correspondent for the Haut-Saint-Laurent