Mayor wants province to protect city water, waste and 911 if contract talks go off rails
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Winnipeg’s mayor wants the province to enact legislation to ensure a labour dispute doesn’t put the city’s water and waste and 911 operations at risk.
“These are services that, to me, are essential, that must always, always be in place, that must always be operating,” Scott Gillingham told reporters Monday.
Provincial legislation already prevents Winnipeg police officers and firefighters from going on strike; their labour disputes are sent to arbitration when a deal can’t be reached at the bargaining table.
Gillingham said he wants the province amend legislation to ensure water treatment, sewer services and 911 operations are also protected under the Essential Services Act.
An administrative report included in the agenda for the March 13 executive policy committee meeting says the province should be asked to include those services in the Essential Services Act. The call to legislate more essential services comes after the municipal government came within hours of a strike that could have impacted critical services in the fall.
On Oct. 11, the city and the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 500 declared a tentative labour deal had been reached to prevent a strike set to begin at midnight the following day.
Water and waste staff, as well as 911 operators, were included in the potential job action. Also on the list were pools, libraries, 311 and public works employees and other departments.
Multiple sources told the Free Press at the time that the absence of city employees could increase the risk of sewage spills, a requirement for boil-water advisories and delays in answering emergency calls.
The city and its largest union had failed to agree to an essential services agreement before the strike deadline — a deal that would ensure workers providing the most critical services stayed on the job.
The city’s administrative report says it tried several times to negotiate an essential service agreement with the union but was unsuccessful. Its proposal for the maintenance of essential services would have involved 10 per cent or less of the union’s membership.
The union local — which represents the employees whose work the city wants included under the Essential Services Act — did not respond to requests for comment Monday.
The city’s report said that failure to operate the sewer collection and treatment process could result in Environment Act violations and public health risks if the result was non-potable water. A boil-water advisory would be “catastrophic” to the health-care system, and a loss of water distribution pumping stations could result in the loss of fire protection and economic risks to hotels and restaurants.
The Progressive Conservative government said it would consider expanding essential-services legislation.
“Manitoba will review any request provided by the City of Winnipeg, and is open to discussion with city council on their recommendations for legislation of essential services,” a provincial spokesperson said Monday.
— With files from Joyanne Pursaga
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.