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Strike vote a possibility as City of Edmonton, CSU 52 workers at negotiation impasse

It should be the most wonderful time of the year for many people, but instead members of the Civic Service Union 52 that work for the City of Edmonton are facing the possibility of walking off the job in the new year.

“Here we’re coming to the Christmas season and it appears they’re going to get another lump of coal in their stockings this year,” CSU 52 president Lanny Chudyk said of his members, who have not had a wage increase in five years.

Civic Service Union 52 represents some City of Edmonton workers, as well as employees in places like Capital Power, Edmonton Public Library, EPCOR, and Telus World of Science.

The two sides are currently in mediation and the union said the city’s team did not come to the table with the ability to negotiate a deal for City of Edmonton employees.

CSU said the city wants workers to accept a retroactive agreement that includes no pay raises for 2021, 1 per cent for 2022 and 2 per cent for 2023.

“Considering the fact that this council and this mayor were already the second-highest paid in Canada before they took the 2.4 per cent increase, I find it a bit hypocritical to continue to ask my members to take zeros or very, very minimal increases when we have seen years of high inflation, high interest rates.”

CSU 52 is trying to negotiate a three-year deal with the possibility of adding a fourth and fifth year to the contract.

“The numbers the city threw on the table are so low, after a zero, one and two — I wouldn’t take it to my membership,” Chudyk said.

After three days of mediation between CSU 52 and the City of Edmonton, the union said it’s currently without a deal.

The mediator sent the two sides away for a few days to rethink their positions. Chudyk said the union is prepared to go back to the table.

“We’re not that far apart. It’s not like we’re 10 or 12 per cent apart. We’re very close, but considering the zero, one and two for the first three years — I can’t do something similar for 2024 and 2025,” he said.

CSU workers touch every service in Edmonton, Chudyk said. From rec centres to parks to administrative roles, its members are spread across a variety of city operations.

“Our members are the IT people, we are the police 911 comms operators, we are the payroll people, we are the people that process permits for developments for business. We support every business that is in this city and so if my members are forced and do go out on strike, it will be a significant impact.”

In some cases, Chudyk said his members are severely underpaid compared to their counterparts in other cities. For example, he said his 911 operators make 38 per cent less than those in Calgary.

“I’ve had the police chief ask, ‘Why can’t I keep people in comms?’ And I said, ‘Well, because you’re a training program here for Calgary and Vancouver and Edmonton Fire.’  38 per cent is a hell of a lot of money.”

Chudyk said he has members worrying about paying rent and taking on second or third jobs in order to make ends’ meet.

“When you do that, your productivity, your alertness in your own workplace tends to suffer and it becomes a health issue.”

The union said both short-term and long-term disability has been on the rise, much of it stemming from mental health issues both related to the workplace and from financial stress.

Back in September, the union sent a bargaining survey to its members of it would accept such a deal and 88 per cent said no. In that same survey, 70 per cent of the responding workers said they would vote to strike if the two sides failed to reach an agreement.

Chudyk said mediation is expected to resume Friday but if it doesn’t, a 14-day cooling off period would take place. After that, the union would take the last offer to members, which Chudyk is certain members would reject, triggering a strike vote sometime in mid-January.

“In the meantime, both parties can continue talking if they choose to and we have been bending over backwards over the last few months to try and craft a deal,” he said.

Because of the low wages, the union said the city is having a hard time retaining employees and attracting new ones.

“A lot of people – younger people, mid-thirties and down – are saying, ‘I don’t need this. We came here because this was a progressive workplace, there was good work life balance. Now we’re seeing significant regression in wages and other benefits.’”

The union said the negotiations with City of Edmonton employees will also affect how the process goes for Edmonton Public Library workers.

“My Edmonton Public Library members are now petitioning to go into mediation. And so if the mandate for the City of Edmonton does not change and we take a strike vote or it’s forced down our throats, EPL will be next at the table and the libraries will close or be operated at a very minimal level,” Chudyk said.

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi wasn’t able to say much about the situation, other than to encourage both sides to remain at the negotiating table.

“We want to make sure that our employees are treated fairly, that we value the work that they provide to this city and the and we will continue to support them,” Sohi said at city hall on Friday. “We would continue to encourage both our administration and CSU 52 to continue to talk and to come to come to an agreement.”

A statement from the City of Edmonton said the two sides are still in the mediation stage and it is committed to reaching an agreement that is fair and equitable for CSU 52, the city and taxpayers.

“The city has, and will continue to, bargain fairly and in a fiscally responsible manner,” the statement said.

Throughout the bargaining process, the city said services continue to be available.

“The city has contingency plans in place in the event of a work stoppage, to ensure critical operations continue.”

The city said due to the bargaining process, it couldn’t say anything more.


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