The workers are planners, assistant superintendents and environmental officials. They submitted that the RCMPA does not pay them the same amount as others who hold the same position with other conservation agencies, although the RCMPA is equal to the salaries of managers. The RCMPA says they are following the process established in its collective agreement with the union. “If we had known in advance that I had honestly said that I had pushed the government to say, “The conservation authorities are in trouble, you have to figure out how to help them. You`re helping all kinds of other segments of Ontario today, and you know we`re taking care of our wetlands and waterways and all the work that conservation authorities are doing, I think that has to be a vital job,” said Thomas. While they may have complied with the collective agreement, OPSEU President Smokey Thomas calls the approach “bad labour relations.” “Everyone will have to tighten their belts, we don`t agree, but some of this hardening should be… The boss has to dress a little bit on the way, and I don`t see him here at all,” he said. I mean, in the grand scheme of things, Samantha Lawson, her salary is not exorbitant, but it is still a decent livelihood. If only they had said, “Sit down and talk,” we could have started working. The Grand River Conservation Authority and approximately 110 employees, represented by OPSEU Local 259, entered into a collective agreement.
“The agreement also provides for market adjustments for certain employment notes over a four-year period,” says a communication from the Authority. It stated that the collective agreement with THE OPSEU contained a provision allowing workers to be temporarily dismissed for lack of work. According to the RCMPA, staff voted in favour of ratifying the new agreement. In a statement to CTV News, a spokesperson for the RCMPA, under provincial guidelines under COVID-19, said that the RCMPA has been reducing its activities since mid-March, including the closure of all protected areas to the public, the temporary suspension of programs and the cancellation of events. The last time the RCMPA laid off staff was in the 1990s, when national funding for conservation authorities was significantly reduced. “Unfortunately, it was necessary for the RCMPA to temporarily reduce all of its salary costs to ensure that we continued to provide critical services and that we could direct the financial impact of this pandemic on our organization,” Lisa Stocco, Director of Communications, said in a statement. “The RCMPA has entered into a collective agreement with its unionized workforce that contains a provision that allows workers to be temporarily laid off for lack of work. The RCMPA followed the process mentioned in this collective agreement. In June, the union said its members were prepared to take strike action because of wage inequality that could have affected late summer camping or recreational use of protected areas. Stocco stated that the Authority continued to provide services deemed essential, although some remain at a reduced level of service: the operation and management of floods; Land management and property and property security; Planning and authorisations in accordance with Section 28 of the Conservation Authorities Act; a source of water protection; and activity support programs. The union also claimed that its workers were notified for an hour before the layoffs came into force, which did not give time to discuss options other than redundancies.