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CUPE apologizes to Whistler

RMOW drops lawsuit prompted by press release that said drinking water was at risk



By Alison Taylor

A short and simple letter of apology has helped put an end to a lawsuit launched by the municipality against the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

The lawsuit, which was before the Supreme Court of British Columbia, was withdrawn late last week. It stemmed from a controversial CUPE press release that called into question the resort’s drinking water last summer.

“We are not pursuing it,” municipal spokesperson Diana Waltmann said this week.

When asked if the written apology prompted the withdrawal of the lawsuit, Carmela Allevato, a lawyer for CUPE said: “It’s mutually agreed.”

The municipality took legal action against the union after a June 2005 press release said Whistler’s water was at risk due to a prolonged labour dispute between the municipality and its water workers. In particular the press release highlighted a water meter failure that CUPE said allowed gallons of untreated surface water to flow into the water system, posing a health risk to residents and guests.

The municipality immediately demanded a retraction of the press release and asked for an apology but none was forthcoming at that time.

In its Statement of Claim filed in the Supreme Court in early July the municipality argued that false information in the press release deterred tourists from coming to Whistler and as such had an economic impact to the resort. For this reason the municipality was looking for damages.

Last week, however, CUPE National Representative Robin Jones wrote a letter of apology to Whistler’s mayor and council.

“We unconditionally apologize to all Whistler residents, businesses, visitors and the municipality itself for any inconvenience caused by our press release,” wrote Jones.

“That press release was not accurate. The safety of the Whistler water supply and treatment system was not a concern. We know that the municipality and its workers are committed to ensuring that it never will be a concern. We were attempting to draw attention to our labour dispute in an effort to put pressure on the municipality.”

Tensions were growing in June 2005 as CUPE and the municipality struggled to reach a collective agreement that would end their long labour dispute.

The local chapter of CUPE includes municipal wastewater treatment workers, utilities workers and bylaw officers. They voted to go on limited strike action at the end of February 2005 when both sides could not reach a new collective agreement at the bargaining table. By June they were still without an agreement and efforts at mediation were floundering.

The labour dispute was ultimately resolved in January 2006.

“Everybody’s really looking forward to building a good relationship and providing the best possible services,” said Allevato. “Everyone’s looking to the future.”