Negotiators for city hall and its largest union head back to bargaining table this week after each group alleged the other of bargaining in bad faith.
Both sides will meet Tuesday, with the help of a provincially-appointed conciliator.
"CUPE walked out of negotiations after just seven minutes at the table and refused to allow the City's bargaining team to go through its bargaining proposals and provide explanations," Felicia Wiltshire, the city’s director of communications, said, adding the city brought in a provincially-appointed conciliator to restart negotiations but the union refuses to meet in a face-to-face situation, making bargaining difficult.
"We’ll sit down and talk with them, if that’s what they want," Gord Delbridge, president of CUPE 500, said Saturday. "We’re ready."
It will only be the second meeting between the two sides with a conciliator and talks have not gone well to date.
The city filed an unfair labour practise charge against the union at the end of February, alleging CUPE 500 of bargaining in bad faith after the union’s team walked away from the bargaining table after only the second day.
Delbridge said the union would also be filing charges with the Labour Board against the city this week on the same grounds, alleging an overwhelming package of concessions amounted to bargaining in bad faith.
CUPE 500 represents about 4,600 civic workers, employed in a variety of positions at most departments across the city.
A source familiar with negotiations between CUPE and the city said one of the city’s positions that has shocked the union is a demand for a 30 per cent wage rollback and the elimination of pension and benefits for seasonal and part-time workers, who make up about half of the union members and are among the city’s lowest-paid workers.
Delbridge would neither confirm nor deny city hall put such a proposal on the table.
"They’ve put up so many roadblocks that it’s making it very challenging for us to negotiate," Delbridge said.
Contract negotiations aren't going well for city hall on any front. Bargaining with unions that represent firefighters, police and middle managers and supervisory staff have stalled, and will be resolved though binding arbitration.
Wiltshire said CUPE's tactics have made bargaining difficult, but added the city is committed to reaching a fair settlement for both sides.
"The City recognizes the important work performed by all of our staff in CUPE, and remains committed to finding a fair and reasonable solution to these ongoing negotiations," Wiltshire said. "We look forward to resuming negotiations with CUPE, and coming to an agreement that is fair and reasonable to all parties, including Winnipeg taxpayers."
Representatives from most of the civic unions met Friday, Delbridge said, and agreed relations with the city have soured since December. That’s when city hall hired its new labour relations manager, Robert Kirby.
"The general consensus among all the union leaders is that relations with city hall have gone off the rail," Delbridge said, adding most of the largest civic unions were at the meeting, including the Winnipeg Police Association, Local 1505 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, and several smaller unions that represent supervisors.
"We’ve always had respectful labour relations with the City of Winnipeg but that’s no longer the case," Delbridge said.
"We don’t know how things are going to move forward even after we conclude bargaining."
Other union leaders have singled Kirby out during this round of bargaining but Mayor Brian Bowman said the objective in negotiations with all labour groups is keeping the "bottom line" its top priority.
"We have an obligation to ensure that the mandate that is provided to our new chief negotiator (Kirby) is fair and reasonable to our valued employees but also protects the bottom line of taxpayers," Bowman told reporters earlier this week.
Before starting at the city in December, he spent four years in senior positions with the RM of Wood Buffalo in Fort McMurray, Alta., including director of the departments of transit and public works, and manager of labour and employee relations.
Before that, Kirby was in Halifax, where, according to his profile on LinkedIn, he operated limousine and janitorial services, acted as a labour relations consultant and had a brief stint with the Regional Municipality of Halifax as the supervisor of employee services.
Delbridge said that while there doesn’t appear to be a resolution, the union isn’t ready to talk about a strike at this point. Delbridge said the bargaining team isn’t recommending seeking a strike mandate from its members, adding he’s still hopeful the bargaining impasse can be broken
However, Delbridge said Local 500’s dealings with the city’s labour relations department appeared to have stalled outside of bargaining as well. The union is sending upwards of 17 grievances to arbitration for settlement, he said, after the city refused to address its concerns.
"We’ve always tried to resolve workplace concerns between us and for the most part, we have," Delbridge. "We’ve never sent this many grievances to arbitration before. Not only does it signify a serious deterioration in our relationship, it also means a significant cost to both sides for lawyers and arbitration fees to settle something that normally we used to be able to do ourselves."