City, unions remain at loggerheads a year after contracts expired

Old City Hall is reflected on the windows of new city hall in downtown Calgary.

Stuart Dryden / Postmedia

Share
Adjust
Comment
Print

A year after collective agreements for all 10 of the city’s unions expired, neither side appears ready to blink amid protracted negotiations, say city councillors and union leaders.

But despite the bargaining impasse, which continued through the city setting its four-year budget in November, no labour action is currently on the horizon, said D’Arcy Lanovaz, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 38, which is responsible for the city’s inside workers.

“We’re still a ways apart. Our members are fully understanding — we knew it was going to be a bit of a hard road compared to past negotiations,” he said.

“We’re still negotiating, but we haven’t even gone to mediation. A strike is always a tool but nobody wants to go there.”

Contracts for nine city unions expired last Jan. 5, while the 10th and final bargaining unit, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, saw theirs lapse last March.

Among those contracts expiring were the city’s two largest unions, governing inside and outside workers, who had been granted four-year deals just before Alberta was hit with a punishing recession, which guaranteed 12.5 per cent salary hikes over the term.

Those agreements were inked in 2014, just days after inside workers, the city’s largest union, overwhelmingly approved a strike mandate.

Those generous agreements, during a period of significant job cuts and restructuring in the city’s private sector, prompted some civic politicians to suggest unions needed to consider steep concessions on pay, potentially including wage freezes as a starting point.

Coun. Ward Sutherland, who wouldn’t discuss details of what the city has offered to unions, said the city’s four-year budget has already pencilled in what they’re hoping unions will accept from a financial standpoint, but so far they haven’t resonated with union leadership.

“There seems to be very little appetite to move in the direction we’ve given to them,” he said.

“I’m disappointed we haven’t been able to find a reasonable solution in this current economic environment.”

Sutherland added another sticking point has grown around the city’s desire to explore the possibility of contracting out some work traditionally reserved for unionized employees.

Later this month, a council committee will receive a report from an independent consultant on the merits of privatizing some city services.

“We’re going into a new phase of looking at all the services we deliver in Calgary and should we be in this business?” said Sutherland, who said he would like to see one-third of the city’s waste and recycling department farmed out to the private sector, along with other possibilities.

“Unfortunately, there have been previous agreements that made it difficult for us to deal with these issues.”

From Lanovaz’s perspective, contracting out services to private contractors can often result in unintended, and often expensive, consequences to municipalities.

“We don’t see any real value in contracting out these services — it doesn’t make a lot of financial sense,” he said.

Les Kaminski, president of the Calgary Police Association, said while he appreciates the city’s desire to keep a tighter rein on expenses, Calgary’s economy has continued to rebound since the downturn.

“Our economy has actually recovered quite a bit — it’s certainly not as bad as it was a couple of years ago,” he said.

“Hopefully the price of oil will keep going up. That’s one of the upsides to not having a contract is we can see what the economy is going to do.”

Given the gap between the two sides, Coun. Shane Keating fully expects unions will play the waiting game in hopes the city’s economy continues to improve, giving them a stronger position at the bargaining table

“I don’t expect anything will change in the near future,” he said.

“I think they’ll just keep waiting for the economy to improve, but at some point you have to make a decision. But we know we can’t just continue as is.”

slogan@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @ShawnLogan403