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City puts new deal on table after CUPE sets strike deadline

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The city’s largest union could head to the picket lines as soon as Wednesday, marking the first general municipal workers’ strike since 1919.

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The city’s largest union could head to the picket lines as soon as Wednesday, marking the first general municipal workers’ strike since 1919.

In a bid to prevent that, the city offered a new deal after the deadline was set.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 500 has set a strike deadline of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday. If a deal isn’t reached by then, workers will walk off the job and a broad array of city services will be affected, said CUPE Local 500 president Gord Delbridge.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

If a deal isn’t reached by 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, workers will walk off the job and a broad array of city services will be affected, said CUPE Local 500 president Gord Delbridge.

“I think that nobody really realizes the extent of the magnitude of us going on strike and I think that’s going to have a significant impact,” said Delbridge.

CUPE Local 500 represents about 4,900 City of Winnipeg workers, who staff key services at pools, libraries, 311, public works and water and waste. The union members voted 93 per cent in favour of a strike mandate in July.

While an essential services agreement is being pursued to protect emergency services, Delbridge said recreation and other departments would be affected.

He urged council’s executive policy committee to issue a directive that ensures city administrators return to the bargaining table as soon as possible “with a fair and reasonable offer.”

Delbridge said wages are the key issue that separate the two sides. He said the city put forward a four-year deal in July that offered raises of 1.5 per cent, one per cent, 1.5 per cent and 1.75 per cent, consecutively, which the union rejected.

On Thursday morning, he said the city’s offer had changed “minimally” since that point, though he did not reveal exact figures.

Amid soaring inflation rates, Delbridge said wage increases must be higher to ensure workers can make ends meet.

“Our members have been very fair and reasonable. They’re willing to take a reduction in the standard of living. We know the cost of inflation is high. We know that the employer is struggling financially as well. We’re willing to share that burden with the employer, but we’re not going to wear it all in its entirety,” he said.

The City of Winnipeg expects to end 2022 with a tax-supported operating deficit of $55.9 million, along with a separate $14.7-million Winnipeg Transit shortfall, based on data up to June 30. The city has blamed the shortfalls primarily on high gas prices, excessive snow-clearing costs, inflation and, of course, COVID-19 costs and revenue losses.

However, Delbridge said it would be “irresponsible” for the union to accept a low wage increase due to the city’s financial woes, since he blames current pay levels for failing to attract and retain staff.

“The city’s going to have to step up to the plate and ensure that we are a competitor in this tough labour market and ensure that we are able to deliver services. We’ve seen 40 wading pool attendants this summer resign, we’re seeing people… going to other employers because they’re paying better,” he said.

Delbridge said CUPE has been pushing for a deal for more than a year and a half.

While the city declined to offer details of the negotiations for much of Thursday, a late afternoon news release announced it had presented the union with a new offer.

CUPE Local 500 / TWITTER

CUPE Local 500 represents about 4,900 City of Winnipeg workers, who staff key services at pools, libraries, 311, public works and water and waste.

“Today’s offer includes general wage increases well above those included in the offer that the CUPE bargaining committee shared with their members in July, and also includes significant money to be used for special wage adjustments to lower paid classifications,” the news release stated.

In the release, chief administrative officer Michael Jack said the city officials “strongly encourage CUPE’s negotiating committee to accept the city’s latest offer and take it to their membership before any job action is taken.”

The release claims the city has proposed an essential services agreement that CUPE has yet to sign, which would ensure clean drinking water, sewage treatment and 911 contact centre operations during a strike.

At this point, the city says its services and programs could be reduced or interrupted during a strike, while some facilities could temporarily close.

Coun. Sherri Rollins, chairwoman of council’s protection and community services committee, said she’s hopeful a deal can be negotiated. She noted a labour dispute would affect recreation services that are key to “the health of the city.”

“My goal has always been to have a successful and healthy (negotiating) table that avoids a strike that the city hasn’t seen since 1919. My goal at the table is to make sure that the city is working for Winnipeggers,” said Rollins.

She declined to comment on whether the city can afford to offer higher wages to CUPE workers than what’s been proposed.

Joyanne.pursaga@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga
Reporter

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.

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