Workers who plow snowy roads

Town won’t agree to wage increases to meet rising cost of living – workers in strike position

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TOWN OF SOUTH BRUCE PENINSULA – The workers who plow our snowy roads in the Town of South Bruce Peninsula are trying to keep their heads above water. Like many Canadians, they are struggling not to fall behind, by trying to negotiate wages that keep up with inflation. Their employer however says its not possible – that there isn’t enough funding – even though some managers have received generous raises in the last couple of years. On Monday, the workers unanimously approved a strike mandate.

Kelly Hellyer is a heavy equipment and road grader operator. He’s been at the job for almost 30 years. He and his co-workers plowing roads might get up as early as 2 AM for a 3 AM start. They’re on-call from 3 AM until 6 pm, seven days a week, from November through March.

“We have to get up that early so that we have all the backroads clear for the schools – and if it’s storming, we won’t go home until after the school buses finish their routes in the afternoon,” says Hellyer. Sometimes as late as 6 PM.

Typically, Hellyer first heads to Purple Valley Road. By 4 AM it’s on to Rouse Road, then Berford Lake Road after that, and so he continues for hours.

The workers are members of SEIU Local 2 and negotiations include Waste Site department and Parks and Recreation workers. 

“We’re not asking for the world here,” says Hellyer. “We just want to keep up with the rising cost of living.” 

Hellyer and his 21 co-workers have a point. According to Statistics Canada [1], February 2022 marked the second consecutive month where headline inflation exceeded 5%. Grocery prices continue to climb, and shelter have risen at the fastest pace since 1983. Gas prices have also climbed drastically.

“Every Christmas Eve I wonder if I’ll get called out to clean roads – and if I’ll be home on time to see the kids open the gifts” say Adam Smyth. He’s starting his fifth year as a heavy equipment operator.

“I get it. It’s my job,” says Smyth. “But to have them crying poor is a tough pill to swallow when managers have been getting significant raises.” 

According to Ontario’s Sunshine list, which is released annually by the Government of Ontario with public sector employees earning over $100,000, the town’s Chief Administrative Officer’s salary jumped from $151,063 to over $205,000 in 2020.  The Director of Public works received a raise of more than $10,000 in 2020 representing a 10.1% raise.  The Manager of Operations saw an increase of 4.3% from 2019 to 2020.

The employees say neighbouring municipalities doing the same work earn more. Providing raises that put Hellyer, Smyth and their co-workers on par with those salaries, would help South Bruce Peninsula employees keep up with the rising cost of living.

Even though Hellyer and his co-workers unanimously voted to approve a strike, they are hoping a resolution can be reached. The workers are in a legal strike position.

[1] https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/220316/dq220316a-eng.htm 

[2] https://www.ontariosunshinelist.com/employers/town-of-south-bruce-peninsula

l-r: Town of South Bruce Peninsula employees and SEIU Local 2 members, Roger Wilson, Trent Charlton, John Potter , Lincoln Urbshott , and Ray Hellyer.

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