Tempers Flare in Labour Dispute

Roughly 100 CSU 52 members gathered at City Hall this week — and workers say their bosses are using "intimidation and fear" in order to thwart the union

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It was hard to hear yourself think outside of City Hall earlier this week amid cries of “no zeroes” and “hey, hey, ho, ho, this council’s got to go.”

Roughly 100 Civic Service Union 52 (CSU 52) members gathered — ironically as the council was in session debating its contentious public spaces bylaw — to demonstrate against the City. Tempers flared among members over the ongoing labour dispute between the union and the City. Many different City operations, from 911 to rec centres, are staffed by CSU 52 members. The union also represents Edmonton Public Library employees.

“The amount the City is insulting everyone here is ridiculous,” a woman, who we are referring to as T after she asked for anonymity out of fear of repercussions from her employer, said. “The City needs to realize that people need paycheques and if council can afford a 4.68 per cent increase, so can we.”

Tension between the City and the union’s membership has only risen in recent days, particularly after the City officially applied for a lockout poll with the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) last week.

T said she feels the City has been trying to intimidate CSU 52 members against voting and into accepting its offer of zero, one per cent and two per cent.

“The email they sent out … to employees right before the strike vote tried to scare us into not voting. That was dirty,” T said. “It was ‘here’s all the things you’re going to lose if you don’t do what we tell you to’  and the City needs to learn this isn’t the military … we’re not just going to fall under orders.”

That sense of intimidation — as well as fear of reprisals for organizing a strike — is being felt more broadly among the member base, according to CSU 52 vice president Tracy Foran.

“[There’s a feeling of] trying to make our members vote under duress. To take what [the City] thinks is a fair deal,” Foran said. “This employer, unfortunately, uses intimidation and fear often with our members.”

While the ALRB does forbid discrimination of workers who have, or are, participating in a work stoppage, Foran says instances of reprisal for speaking out can still occur.

“They monitor social media and watch who’s interviewed on the news and if you can be identified as a City of Edmonton employee they could very well apply disciplines,” Foran said. “The union will fight that, especially in this case.”

Even with those fears in mind, Foran says she’s heard from members who feel the situation is dire enough that it is worth the risk.

“We know our members are accessing food banks and other services to make sure they get by day-to-day with their families,” Foran said. “We have members who have said they can’t afford to strike financially, but in order to better their standings with the employer, have no choice but to go on strike.”

While membership may be champing at the bit, the union (or the City, for that matter) have yet to serve each other any official notices of intent for a strike or lockout. Foran believes there’s some brinksmanship behind recent developments in the dispute, reiterating that CSU 52 would prefer to avoid a strike altogether and doubting the City’s seriousness about a lockout.

But beyond any perceptions of chest-thumping, there may be another reason the union has yet to service notice: a performance review for City Manager Andre Corbould.

“[When a potential strike might occur] is really going to depend on what happens over the course of the next few days,” Foran said. “We know the city manager has a performance appraisal on Feb. 16. Maybe he won’t be around to pursue [the dispute] anymore and they’ll come to the table and talk. It’s hard to say.”

Corbould’s review is set for Friday at 1:30 p.m. on the city council calendar.