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This article was published 18/2/2011 (2322 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The City of Winnipeg's largest union is in position to go on strike, but intends to return to the bargaining table after the long weekend.
On Friday, members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 500 voted to reject a city contract offer that included another no-layoff guarantee for permanent employees but also a wage freeze over the first two years of the four-year deal.
Of the members who turned out to cast a ballot -- less than half of the 4,649-person membership exercised their right, according to Mayor Sam Katz -- 87 per cent voted to give their bargaining committee a strike mandate.
"Almost 90 per cent. We're thrilled about this," CUPE 500 president Mike Davidson said early Friday evening, after the ballots were counted. "It's a clear sign of solidarity.
"Our members want to go back to the bargaining table and get a deal that would please both sides."
CUPE 500 members make up 49 per cent of the city's workforce. They work as call centre operators, water and waste workers, health inspectors, library clerks and public works employees, among other roles.
Emergency workers such as police officers, firefighters and paramedics belong to other unions. In the event of a strike, some CUPE members will remain on the job as part of an essential-services agreement that has yet to be worked out.
Both Davidson and Linda Black, director of corporate support services, the city department responsible for labour negotiations, have already said no CUPE member with flood-fighting responsibilities will sit out the coming spring, should a strike take place.
Along with job security and a two-year wage freeze, the rejected city offer included wage increases of two per cent a year in the third and fourth year of the deal, sources on both sides said. It also included improved benefits, pensions and training, said Black.
Black said she was disappointed with the vote but pleased CUPE is eager to return to the bargaining table. Negotiations could resume early next week, she said.
"We've been very conciliatory. We've been respectful," she said. "Clearly, they have a mandate for a strike. We just need to get back to the table."
The city has contacted a provincial conciliator to aid the bargaining process, said Black. She and Davidson said they want Winnipeggers to know no work slowdowns or stoppages are imminent.
"We'll be asking our members to go about performing their duties to the best of their abilities," Davidson said.
Katz also implored Winnipeggers to remain calm.
"I'm not convinced CUPE wants to go on strike and the city wants to resolve the issue," he said. "Getting a strike mandate is part of the negotiation process. As long as you keep on talking, there's a possibility you can resolve the issue."
Davidson expressed a similar sentiment in an email to CUPE 500 members later Friday evening.
"We are now going back to a media blackout on negotiations so we can concentrate on getting a settlement," he wrote. "As I have said on many occasions during bargaining, we do not negotiate in the media and you will be the first to know how matters are progressing."
It is common for unions and employers to work out deals following a strike vote. In 2008, for example, the city and transit workers averted a labour stoppage after the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 voted to strike. The last city strike took place in 1976, when transit workers walked.