Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tentative deal for city workers

-- CUPE recommending approval -- Details to be spelled out to members

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The city and its biggest union have reached a tentative contract agreement, averting a strike that threatened to paralyze the city.

The deal was reached Sunday morning with the help of mediator Michael Werier. The details of the agreement -- and whether it includes a wage freeze -- won't be made public until city workers have had a chance to review the deal before a ratification vote. One report said it will be a four-year deal with a zero per cent wage hike in the first year.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 500 is recommending its members approve the settlement.

"This has been a very tough round of bargaining. Both sides are pleased that we came to an agreement. At the end of the day, both sides got what they needed," said Mike Davidson, president of Local 500.

Mayor Sam Katz agreed.

"I always believed as long we kept communicating and discussing the issues we could find a resolution that would be acceptable to both sides. It appears we may be there. I don't believe anybody wanted to see a strike," Katz said in an interview Sunday.

Deputy Mayor Justin Swandel said he was also pleased with the outcome of the negotiations.

"Getting a deal hashed out is good. Both sides were at the table trying to get a deal done even though it might not have appeared that way. Both sides were negotiating in good faith and hopefully this deal will go through," he said.

Davidson said details of the tentative deal will be spelled out to its members within two weeks. Council is expected to vote on it on March 23, with CUPE members following a day or two later.

City workers originally voted to reject a city contract offer that included a no-layoff guarantee for permanent employees but also a wage freeze over the first two years of the four-year deal.

A strike threatened to put 4,600 call-centre operators, water and waste employees, health inspectors, library staff, and many other workers on the picket line.

Katz said while the potential for a strike was there, it wouldn't have been nearly as crippling as in other cities because Winnipeg's police officers, firefighters, paramedics as well as snow-clearing and garbage personnel, are handled by another entity.

Davidson said his side didn't want to hit the picket lines.

"We didn't want to inconvenience the citizens of Winnipeg. We wanted to be at the table bargaining," he said.

The stalemate lasted several weeks and CUPE was preparing a picketing schedule and rented strike headquarters on Portage Avenue. Last week, the province appointed Werier in an attempt to break the impasse.

There had been fears a strike could cause serious disruptions to minor hockey playoffs throughout the city, forcing organizers to scramble to find ice time in arenas run by community centres.

There will be no interruption to the next round of registrations through the Leisure Guide, which gets underway this morning.

Public sector unions have generally been agreeing to contracts calling for wage freezes of two years up front, followed by increases at the back end of contracts.

Friday evening, the University of Winnipeg Faculty Association accepted a three-year deal worth 5.41 per cent in wages and benefits over three years.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 14, 2011 B1

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