Union representing many city employees slams Edmonton council spending – Edmonton

Members of the Civic Service Union (CSU 52), which represents many City of Edmonton workers, are prepared to strike if their employer does not return to the bargaining table.

On Wednesday, members rallied outside Edmonton City Hall, holding signs and chanting: “no zeros!”

Over the weekend, a vote was held and 91 per cent of CSU 52 members (with 83 per cent turnout) supported a strike mandate. Earlier, members who work for Edmonton Public Libraries approved a strike mandate with a 94 per cent vote.

“CSU 52 members do not want to strike,” union president Lanny Chudyk said.

“My members, bluntly, financially, would be difficult in a strike situation. But they’ve been backed up against the wall. They feel they have no other choice but to submit a strike notice authorization to their union.”

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Click to play video: 'Edmonton rec centre workers, 911 operators votes overwhelmingly in favour of strike'

Edmonton rec centre workers, 911 operators votes overwhelmingly in favour of strike

A strike mandate doesn’t automatically mean a strike. Chudyk said CSU 52 will wait a few days in the hopes the city will come back to the bargaining table.

“We’ve been at the table for over 18 months and it’s our opinion that the employer has only come to the table because legally they’re required to,” he said. “The city was conducting surface bargaining … they were not prepared to bargain anything.”

“The city made an offer to CSU 52 which includes wage increases and a commitment to hybrid work, among other items of benefit for the members,” said Michelle Plouffe with the City of Edmonton.

“We believe it is a fair and equitable offer. The city is disappointed in the results of CSU 52’s strike vote.”

Click to play video: 'Edmonton civic workers could go on strike in January 2024'

Edmonton civic workers could go on strike in January 2024

CSU 52 is the city’s largest labour union. It represents more than 6,000 technical, professional, administrative and clerical workers within the City of Edmonton and Edmonton Public Library including police communications, 911 operators, DATS schedulers, 311 support agents, city planners, safety code and building code officers, permit processors, recreation centre employees, animal welfare co-ordinators, tax assessors, librarians, pages and professional services, and some workers within EPCOR and TELUS World of Science. (However, EPCOR staff are not employed by the city and have a separate collective agreement.)

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“If we’re forced to strike or if we’re locked out, this will impact every bit of business the city does,” Chudyk said. “311, 911, call positions at EPS (Edmonton Police Service), IT, planning, business permitting, rec centres, libraries.

“There isn’t a single piece of business the city does that my members don’t support or impact in one way or another.”

Click to play video: 'Concerns with Edmonton’s proposed property tax increase'

Concerns with Edmonton’s proposed property tax increase

Chudyk said the union wants a fair, negotiated settlement that “does not impact taxpayers severely.”

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He said CSU 52 understands the city has a tight budget, but questions council’s spending decisions.

“We understand what the city’s financial position is. The problem we have is understanding how the city got themselves in this financial position,” Chudyk said.

“We don’t spend the dollars. It’s council that makes those determinations. My members haven’t seen a wage increase in five years. We’re in the sixth year of zeros now.

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“So when the city makes comments like: ‘This property tax increase is because of union wages,’ it certainly hasn’t been my members, it certainly hasn’t been CUPE Local 30, it certainly hasn’t been ATU 569, and if the city didn’t budget for EPA (Edmonton Police Association) increases, somebody should be fired,” Chudyk added.

“This financial downturn over the last 24-30 months has hit the lowest-paid employees in the City of Edmonton hard, and then we see city council who, over the last eight months, takes 4.81 per cent increase for themselves, when they were already the second-highest paid council in the country.”

Chudyk said CSU 52 members felt like that raise “was an absolute slap in the face.”

He also said the union was seeking non-monetary gains — things like earned days off or a hybrid work option for a small portion of members.

Click to play video: 'Edmontonians concerned with 911 calls being transferred to 811'

Edmontonians concerned with 911 calls being transferred to 811

On Feb. 8, the city applied to the Alberta Labour Relations Board for approval of a lockout poll (vote) “in response to CSU 52 applying for and holding a strike vote.”

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“The city does not plan to lock out CSU 52 members unless it is required to minimize and manage the disruption a strike is causing to city services and the impact to Edmontonians,” a spokesperson for the city told Global News on Friday.

On Wednesday, a spokesperson said the city has not negotiated with the union since the strike vote, saying it has a proposal vote application with the Alberta Labour Relations Board.

In a statement, the city said its application to the labour relations board would “ensure every eligible union member can vote directly on the city’s offer.” The city said it believes the vote date window will be confirmed shortly.

“The city’s goal continues to be to reach an agreement that is fair and equitable for members, the city and taxpayers and minimizes any impact to Edmontonians in the process,” Plouffe said. “We also respect employees’ right to vote and will be encouraging members to use that right during the upcoming direct vote on the city’s offer.”

Chudyk said the city’s “best and final offer” was “insulting.”

“We discussed it with our members,” he said Wednesday. “We had numerous meetings with our members and we discussed in detail the city’s five-year offer, and you saw a 91 per cent strike vote.”

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‘They’re completely out of touch’: political analyst weighs in on Edmonton property tax hike

Political analyst John Brennan said the previous city council didn’t set aside money for a contract settlement for CSU 52 and union members have been without a contract since 2018.

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He said that puts the current council in a tough spot.

“My guess is the money that they’ve got budgeted for this settlement — which as I understand it 7.25 per cent over five years — is all they have for this contract settlement,” Brennan said.

“So, if the city makes this offer richer — which I don’t see them doing — that’s going to cause an impact on the city’s budget, and we will see that in April when council sets the bill rate and finalizes the tax rate.”

Council has already approved a 6.6 per cent property tax increase.

“I don’t think there will be a direct impact on the taxpayer if the CSU 52 agrees to the city’s final offer because it’s my belief the city had made this final offer with the knowledge that they have budgeted for and that they can pay this settlement,” Brennan said.

“It becomes more problematic for the current council if the offer increases because … those salary increases carry on over time and have to be budgeted for, and that means greater tax increases for residential property taxpayers and for businesses, not just this year but subsequent years.”

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City of Edmonton administration unveils $7.75 billion 2023-2026 capital budget

Brennan said CSU 52 has never gone on strike in its history.

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“What they’re doing today, with the protest and with the campaign they’re running in the media, is they’re trying to get the city to come back to the table to enrich the offer.

“I don’t know if the city is going to do that.”

Jason Foster, associate professor of human resources and labour relations at Athabasca University, said it’s not uncommon for two parties to get to the brink of a strike or lockout before reaching an agreement.

“We’ve basically entered a phase where the two parties are playing a bit of a game of chicken,” he said. “The employer is saying: ‘Well, we’re going to lock you out if you don’t concede to our demands.’ And the union is saying: ‘Well, if you don’t do what we want to do, we’re going to go on strike.’”

The impact on Edmontonians ends up being the same, Foster said.

“If either there’s a lockout or a strike, it means important public services, city facilities and the like become inaccessible — closed or certain services are greatly reduced.”

In a news release Friday, the city said its best and final offer for CSU 52 members included a 7.25 per cent wage increase over a five-year period (2021-2025).

The city said its negotiations with the union included 30 bargaining sessions and multiple mediation dates.

Originally Appeared Here

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