It took a last-minute showdown at the bargaining table to prevent Winnipeg’s first civic employees strike in 98 years.
Gord Delbridge, president of CUPE 500, said the union’s bargaining team was ready to walk out of talks with city hall and send 4,600 city workers out onto a picket line — when the city's negotiators backed down.
"We were literally within minutes where we were going to walk," Delbridge said. "They made movement that I felt we needed to get to a point where I had something I could take back to the members."
Tuesday’s bargaining session was a dramatic turnaround from the events of a week before, when union members voted 85 per cent in favour of rejecting the city's final offer and authorized a strike vote.
That offer from the city included 16 pages of concessions and a four-year agreement with a wage freeze in the first year, followed by annual increases of one per cent in the second and third years and 1.25 per cent in the fourth.
Committee recommends members accept agreement
Bargaining resumed Monday and a deal was reached Tuesday evening. Delbridge said the bargaining committee is recommending members vote to accept the agreement.
No details on the tentative agreement are being released until it’s presented to the members for a ratification vote. Delbridge said the union is trying to book a meeting room large enough to accommodate the 4,600 members employed in almost every civic department.
Mayor Brian Bowman told reporters Wednesday he was pleased with the outcome, adding it demonstrates city hall was determined to get an agreement with its largest union.
Bowman said the CUPE deal, once ratified, will be the third negotiated settlement with a civic union this year; the first two involved the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg and the Winnipeg Police Association, which is in the middle of an extended ratification vote.
"We’re very pleased we were able to negotiate (a settlement) at the table," he said. "I believe all (three deals) are fair and reasonable to our valued employees as well as to taxpayers."
'Rising costs of labour not sustainable': mayor
Bowman wouldn’t explain what happened at the bargaining table to avert a strike, but said negotiations were challenging.
"There was no doubt it was difficult negotiations," he said. "We take the role and responsibility of protecting taxpayers’ interest very, very seriously. I’ve said on numerous occasions, the rising costs of labour are not sustainable for taxpayers."
The city reached an agreement with firefighters that includes a 1.8 per cent wage increase at the end of this year, followed by increases of two per cent in each of the three following years.
It’s believed the police union has settled on an even richer deal. While details have not yet been released, a source said that contract is for five years, with annual increases of 2.5 per cent in the each of the first three years and a combined 2.5 per cent increase in two instalments (1 per cent and 1.5 per cent) in each of the remaining two years.
Police are voting on that contract over a 10-day period. Ballots will be counted June 19 and, if approved, the deal will go to council for approval at its June 21 meeting.
Bargaining isn't over at city hall. Three union groups are without contracts now and a fourth expires in August:
- The city’s middle managers, represented by the Winnipeg Association of Public Service Officers (WAPSO) have been without a contract since October 2015.
- The Winnipeg Police Senior Officers Association agreement expired at the end of December.
- The contract with paramedics, represented by the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union (MGEU) expired in mid-February.
- The agreement with the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Senior Officers Association expires in August.