“Extremely Unreasonable”: Union Head Slams City

Mediation has been extended in the labour dispute between the City of Edmonton and Civic Service Union 52, but a deal seems unlikely

It’s been nearly two months since members of Civic Service Union 52 (CSU 52) finished a non-binding vote in favour of potential strike action. But seven weeks later, the union representing 5,000 City and Edmonton Public Library workers is still in the bargaining process.

Mediation between CSU 52 and the City was slated for three days — December 5, 6 and 13 — but when the two parties were unable to reach an agreement late Wednesday evening both parties agreed to extended mediation, according to CSU president Lanny Chudyk.

Chudyk said the proposals offered by the City haven’t budged from the initial zero, one and two per cent (over three years) offered during earlier deliberations.

“It was a very frustrating day and it took until late in the day for a couple of offers to come onto the table, which were extremely unreasonable,” he said. “The City came back with a tentative five-year deal that I can’t comment on, but the zero, one and two per cent were still there.

“We’ve made it very plain that zero, one and two per cent for 2021, 2022 and 2023 aren’t sufficient.”

Urban Affairs reached out to the City to confirm whether their offer remains at zero, one and two per cent wage increases, and whether it’s made any other proposals during mediation. City officials did not provide a direct answer, instead issuing a statement that the City is “committed to reaching an agreement that is fair and equitable for CSU 52, the City and taxpayers.”

Chudyk says the offerings from the City thus far simply aren’t enough for his membership to address the mounting cost of living increases and inflationary concerns faced by much of Canada.

“I have members who are figuring out how they’re going to pay their rent in the new year, particularly if there are rent increases and we’re seeing that fairly significantly,” he said. “People’s rent is jumping $400 to $500 per month when their income has remained static for basically four or five years.”

Despite seemingly contentious negotiations, Chudyk’s said the union’s still prepared to work towards avoiding a work stoppage, but said he feels as if the parties opposite him have their hands tied in terms of their ability to negotiate autonomously.

“Mediation ended yesterday with … us saying that we’re still prepared to craft a deal, but this isn’t a deal and [the City’s negotiators] need to go back to somebody in authority,” he said. “It’s obvious there’s no authority at this table.”

Communication Breakdown

One potential strategy the City could employ, according to Chudyk, is to try to force a vote from the union’s membership via a request to the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB).

“I started to get the feeling late on (December 13) that the City’s ultimate end game here, is to get something on the table that we turn down and then go to the ALRB and ask the board to order a vote of our members on a proposal,” he said. “That may well be where we end up.”

Chudyk’s comments are speculative at best, and the City didn’t comment on whether they’re considering such a move, but if that scenario were to arise, it still doesn’t mean that the City would avoid a work stoppage. Members — who voted 86 per cent in favour of striking in late October — could very well still opt to reject the deal and head towards the picket line if unsatisfied with what’s on the table.

“If they went down that road towards a forced proposal vote, we would certainly be speaking out very publicly and loudly to our members and to council,” Chudyk. said.

The workers affected include library staff, recreation centre workers, payroll employees and even emergency dispatchers.

(Steven Sandor is the editor of Urban Affairs. His wife is a member of CSU 52. He did not participate in the writing of this story).