City, CUPE reach tentative deal — for real
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The City of Winnipeg and CUPE 500 announced a tentative contract had been reached mere hours before thousands of workers, from library staff to wastewater employees, were scheduled to hit the picket line.
“Following discussions today, the City of Winnipeg and the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 500 (CUPE) have reached a tentative agreement, which avoids a potential labour disruption,” the city said in a news release issued around 8 p.m. The strike was set to begin at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.
The city said it would not release details of the deal, which must be approved by workers and city council.
A short time earlier, CUPE 500 said it had been given the (same) tentative agreement it had reached on the long weekend following an emergency meeting of the city’s executive policy committee held late Tuesday afternoon.
“I extend my deepest thanks to our negotiating team and strike committee for their hard work during a tough round of bargaining, and to all our membership for their steadfast resolve and support,” said president Gord Delbridge.
“We are not happy with the way the city handled this process, but are relieved that we have a package to review prior to bringing it to our members for their vote.”
Ratification meetings were to be scheduled for the coming weeks.
Earlier Tuesday, workers had been poised to strike as the two sides engaged in a bizarre dispute over whether or not they had reached a deal, with the help of a conciliator, on the long weekend.
CUPE accused the city’s top administrator of trying to delay a fair deal by denying there had been one.
About half of Tuesday night’s 911 call-takers and dispatchers were initially not expected to report for work as the impasse dragged on.
The union’s bargaining committee put out a statement Tuesday afternoon saying “we are shocked and disheartened that the CAO would contradict the discussions agreed upon through the conciliation process.
“This has resulted in an incredible amount of undue hardship on our negotiating committee, our members, and the public. The city appears to be attempting to stall our efforts to achieve a fair deal for municipal workers.”
Earlier Tuesday, the city put out a news release denying there was a tentative agreement and saying both sides were still negotiating.
“The city is seeking clarity from CUPE regarding the statement it issued,” Michael Jack, the city’s CAO said in a statement.
“We acknowledge that this latest development is a confusing one for our employees and for Winnipeggers who rely on our programs and services. The city remains hopeful that it can reach a settlement with the union without a labour disruption.”
The union suggested the city had been bargaining in bad faith and it would file an unfair labour practice with the Manitoba Labour Board.
The last time civic workers went on strike was in 1919.
David Camfield, co-ordinator of the University of Manitoba’s labour studies program and an associate professor of labour studies and sociology, said the initial lack of clarity over whether a deal had been reached “is very odd.”
“This seems to someone from the outside that there is a certain amount of dysfunction from the management side,” Camfield said. “The CUPE bargaining team feels they reached a tentative agreement, but now there’s a lack of clarity from the other side.
“To have a situation where there is a public dispute about a tentative agreement is very odd… this is a union whose leadership cannot be called militant. There hasn’t been a strike since 1919. This is a very peculiar situation.
With about 4,900 civic workers represented by CUPE 500, a strike would have affected numerous city services, including pools, libraries, 311, public works and water and waste departments.
A civic worker, who didn’t want to be named, said because there was no essential service agreement in place — the union didn’t agree to sign one — numerous civic departments were scrambling on Tuesday to find managers to cover work normally performed by CUPE members.
“These management-level staff have zero training or experience running and will not have the staffing numbers to run the water treatment plant, water distribution system, wastewater collection, wastewater treatment or laboratory services,” the worker said.
“I would be seriously concerned about possible boil water advisories and uncontrolled releases of raw sewage or under-treated sewage into the rivers in Winnipeg.”
The city had proposed a four-year agreement with a maximum wage increase of 1.75 per cent in July, but CUPE rejected the offer, citing soaring inflation rates.
Last July, CUPE members voted 93 per cent in favour of strike action. The contract expired on Feb. 28, 2021, and the two sides have been negotiating since March 2021.
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.
Updated on Tuesday, October 11, 2022 2:00 PM CDT: Adds CUPE statement; various edits.
Updated on Tuesday, October 11, 2022 6:33 PM CDT: Writethru, new headline, adds image
Updated on Tuesday, October 11, 2022 8:53 PM CDT: Writethru, new headline, adds tentative deal reached