A hotly debated waste collection project may not be carried out by the City of Winnipeg any time soon.
In March, city council sought an arbitrator’s view on whether or not a 2018 settlement agreement requires the city to conduct the two-year public garbage pilot project.
That agreement settled a Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 500 grievance, which alleged the city unfairly overlooked in-house collection within its previous major garbage contract.
The city’s largest union says the settlement requires the pilot project to occur, while city staff argue that’s only true if the pilot can be done without exceeding the price for private collection.
It now appears an arbitrator won’t reach a speedy solution on that dispute. Instead, CUPE has filed a second grievance, which the city says will spark a lengthier process.
"(It’s) very likely that (this) will not see arbitration for at least 18 months," writes Moira Geer, the city’s water and waste director, in an email obtained by the Free Press.
The pilot project was supposed to begin in east Winnipeg on Feb. 1 this year until city staff recommended cancelling it over budget concerns, estimating it would cost $656,000 more than a $2.2-million private option.
At that point, CUPE claimed dropping the plan would violate the 2018 settlement. On Monday, a union leader confirmed a second grievance now accuses the city for "failing to honour" the settlement.
"They’re reneging on the settlement so we’ll go (to arbitration) on the whole settlement in its entirety," said Gord Delbridge, president of CUPE local 500. "We’ll be seeking damages from the city, too, because we’ve invested a lot into this, for them to just up and change their tune."
The union has not released a damage estimate, which Delbridge said would relate to planning efforts for the pilot project.
CUPE has long questioned the city’s cost estimates for in-house collection and argued the union can prove it’s able to perform the work efficiently.
"There has been huge delays and that shouldn’t be taking place. The city should honour their agreements, then they wouldn’t be running into this," said Delbridge.
He said no timeline has been set to deal with the grievance, which he also expects will take a year or two to resolve.
With the dispute expected to linger on, the city now plans to hire a contractor for the east Winnipeg contract and designate a separate southwest Winnipeg multi-family garbage collection area "as a pilot candidate."
The current collection contract for the southwest area is due to end "in less than two years," Geer notes.
Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital), who has long supported the pilot, said he fears the mounting delays could make it less likely the project will actually take place.
"My concern is at some point there won’t be the will to even try it," said Mayes, who will become council’s water and waste chairman on June 27. "I think if this (takes) much longer, we could just miss a whole garbage cycle here … We’ve got to get this thing moving at some point."
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.
Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.
Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.
To those who have made donations, thank you.
To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.
The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.
While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.
After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.
If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.
We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.