City union sets up strike HQ as talks continue
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The union for about 4,900 City of Winnipeg employees has set up a strike headquarters as members prepare to hit the picket lines if there is no progress this week.
The headquarters at 1500 Portage Ave., just west of the Empress Street underpass, opened Monday.
Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 500 wants to be fully prepared should job action be necessary for the civic employees, including many who support key city services at pools, libraries, 311, public works and water and waste.
“The impact would be significant, I think, beyond what most people realize,” Local 500 president Gord Delbridge said Tuesday. “We hope the city realizes that.
“We would most certainly like to avoid (a strike), but I guess it’s up to the employer if they’re going to push us into that position.”
If the municipal workers go on strike, it will be the first for this group since 1919, said Delbridge.
With a wage increase the main sticking point, CUPE Local 500 and the city are scheduled to meet with a conciliator again Thursday.
Union members have been without a contract since Feb. 28, 2021. Negotiations began March 10, 2021.
On July 12, employees voted 93 per cent in favour of a strike mandate, CUPE Local 500 said.
The City of Winnipeg’s largest union declined to reveal details of the city’s latest offer or how much of a wage increase it is seeking.
“We want to share it with our members first,” said Delbridge.
In July, he said the city offered a contract with wage hikes of 1.5 per cent in the first year, 1.0 per cent in the second year, 1.5 per cent in the third year and 1.75 per cent in the fourth year.
At the time, he described that offer as “a slap in the face” to workers.
“We’ve been at the table since then,” Delbridge said Tuesday, declining to reveal if the city has offered a higher increase since July.
The union has said it is seeking an increase closer to the cost of living.
Delbridge noted Statistics Canada reported the consumer price index has risen by almost nine per cent in Manitoba since last year.
That equals a significant reduction in the standard of living for many employees, he said.
“Our members are willing to share some of the challenges with the employer,” said Delbridge.
He claims the city is no longer an “employer of choice” and must increase wages to be competitive in a tough labour market.
Many departments are plagued by recruitment and retention issues; lower paid employees are leaving for jobs in the service industry because they offer higher pay with tips, he said.
City of Winnipeg spokesman David Driedger said collective bargaining is ongoing, with the next session with a conciliator scheduled for Thursday.
“The city remains committed to making every reasonable effort to successfully negotiate an agreement with CUPE,” he wrote in an email. “Given that bargaining is ongoing, we will not comment further on negotiations at this time.”
As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.