There is no more money available to offer the employees of The Works even if they choose to go on strike. That’s the blunt message from Bill Thistle, chairman of the voluntary board that manages the recreation complex at Memorial University that includes the Field House, the Aquarena and other services.
The 299 maintenance, aquatic, fitness, food and customer service employees who are represented by CUPE Local 3336 voted to reject a second tentative agreement yesterday.
“Twice we have reached a tentative agreement with the negotiating team and with CUPE representatives which would see a compounded wage increase of more than 20 per cent over four years,” said Mr. Thistle. “Twice that team and those CUPE negotiators have recommended acceptance of those tentative agreements. And twice the employees have rejected those agreements in the false hope that there is some magical source of money available to us to sweeten the deal. Well there isn’t.”
Mr. Thistle explained that there is a limit to how much extra cost The Works can absorb. “The deals we offered will increase our costs by about $800,000 a year by the end of the contract,” he said. “We can work around how that money is distributed, but we cannot add to the amount. We just don’t have the revenue to do that. That’s a lot of extra cost to our operation.”
He explained that The Works has limited sources of revenue. “We receive modest subsidies from Memorial University and the City of St. John’s, but the vast majority of our revenue comes from user fees, including a mandatory university student recreation fee,” he said. “We just raised that student fee from $40 to $50 per semester. I don’t think Memorial’s students would support or welcome a further fee increase at this time.”
The employees have complained that the rates of pay they receive are less than those offered at other public, recreation facilities in St. John’s and Mount Pearl, but Mr. Thistle says that’s an unfair comparison.
“There’s a big difference between the expectations in those facilities and ours,” said Mr. Thistle. “The cities in the region have a small number of mostly permanent, full-time employees engaged in this kind of work. Our workers are mostly students who are working part time. The rates of pay we offer are comparable to rates of pay for student part-time jobs in the region. So we’re being fair and we’re being generous, especially with the wage increases we’re offering. And no matter how long they go on strike, there still won’t be any extra money available. So they’re going to have to eventually settle for this amount.”
The Works is managed as a separately incorporate entity of Memorial University by a volunteer board of directors that includes representatives of the university, undergraduate and graduate students, the City of St. John’s and the general community.