The city has been unable to negotiate the end of a controversial deal in which taxpayers cover most of a union leader’s salary, almost three years after deciding to do so.
However, Mayor Brian Bowman insisted Wednesday the city could still get rid of the arrangement.
In June 2018, when council voted to seek an end to the deal, city taxpayers were covering 60 per cent of the $116,000 annual compensation paid to United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg president Alex Forrest. Prior to 2014, city taxpayers paid the full shot.
Forrest has argued his union efforts to fight for minimum health and safety standards are worthy of taxpayer funding. The mayor shared an opposite, blunt view of the arrangement on Wednesday, while stating he remains committed to ending it.
"I think it’s ridiculous. To have a union leader’s union activities and salary paid for by taxpayers is, to me, offensive as a taxpayer. I wish that deal wasn’t struck by the previous (city) administration, but we’re trying to do our best to remedy that," said Bowman.
He said the city still believes it can negotiate the end of the salary deal, despite a claim the municipal government missed a key October deadline to submit proposals for the current round of labour talks with UFFW. In a letter previously obtained by the Free Press, the union claimed the mistake means only UFFW proposals are eligible to be considered during collective bargaining.
The mayor stressed the city still believes that isn’t the case.
"I know that’s the position of the union about the deadline, (but) that’s not the position of the City of Winnipeg," said Bowman.
The mayor declined to reveal details of how the matter could be handled, noting the city and UFFW have started the collective bargaining process.
"I’ll let our positions on various matters affecting the collective agreement remain at the bargaining table. I want to respect that process," he said.
Forrest declined to speak about collective bargaining issues on Wednesday, since labour talks are underway, but indicated he expects to stick around as the union’s leader.
"I can’t comment on any issues that may be in front of the bargaining process. But I can tell you… I expect a long career with UFFW," he said.
In an emailed statement, city spokeswoman Tamara Forlanski declined to comment on specific bargaining matters.
"The city continues to bargain in good faith, and is hopeful that a negotiated collective agreement will be reached with the UFFW," Forlanski wrote.
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.