EPL, City Workers Say Yes to Strike Action

Negotiations between the union and the City have been turned over to a mediator, but many librarians and other City employees are getting ready to walk off the job

A major city workers’ union is considering strike action that could lead to closure of libraries and other disruptions to City services.

Civil Service Union 52, which represents 5,000 City employees including Edmonton Public Library workers, clerical staff  and numerous other employee groups, held an informal strike vote earlier this month that saw members vote 86 per cent in favour.

CSU 52 has been in bargaining for nearly two years, following five years of no pay increases, and the city has so far not budged on its offer of zero, one-per cent and two-per cent increases across three years – an offer union president Lanny Chudyk says his workers “adamantly” oppose.

“If we’re forced to do a work stoppage, we’ll be taking out pretty much everybody that is a CSU 52 employee, which would certainly impact the City’s operation, there is no doubt,” Chudyk says. “Our members serve every function in the city of Edmonton – IT, payroll, planning, safety codes, 911 call eval, police dispatch.”

The union has posted on its website that it is offering a strike captain training course Nov. 10. The union and the city jointly petitioned the Alberta Labour Relations Board for a mediator this week, a process that will likely take place in mid to late November. If both parties can’t come to an agreement, there will be a 14-day cooling-off period, after which the union can take an official strike vote.

This could potentially put libraries out of commission in winter, at a time when they serve as critical temporary shelter spaces for unhoused Edmontonians. The city could potentially run some key libraries with managers who are not part of the union, and Chudyk suspects key locations like the Stanley A. Milner downtown may remain open, though that would be up to the City.

City spokesperson Lisa Glover said the city is committed to reaching an agreement that is “fair and equitable for employees, the city and taxpayers.

“The City has, and will continue to, bargain fairly and in a fiscally responsible manner. Throughout the bargaining process, City services continue to be available,” Glover said in a statement.

“Out of respect for the bargaining process and people involved, we will not be commenting further at this time.”

Chudyk says Dedicated Accessible Transit Service (DATS) workers will stay on the job in the case of a strike, as he considers them essential. He says the City has asked him to exempt other groups, like 911 dispatchers, but that the City has not agreed to co-author an application to have them declared an essential service by the labour relations board.

Chudyk still hopes the mediator can get both parties to arrive at a deal they can live with.

“Nobody really wins in a strike monetarily, and I would much much prefer to be able to bring something to my members that I can say is somewhat fair and equitable,” he says.

Chudyk is arguing for a pay raise in line with the Edmonton Police Association, which got 1.5, three and 2.5-per cent increases for 2021 to 2023. He is also pushing for hours that give employees a better work-life balance, saying many have left or are threatening to leave their jobs for more “progressive” employers.

Chudyk has said recent inflation has made the increase especially crucial, saying some of his members are just “hanging on” and have mortgages coming up they won’t be able to pay.

The negotiations will cover a three-year period starting when the last contract ended, meaning whatever is decided on will apply to 2021 through 2023, and then talks will restart for 2024 and beyond.

(Urban Affairs editor Steven Sandor’s wife is an EPL employee, he did not participate in the writing of this story.)