To Strike, or Not to Strike? Union, City Head to Mediation Talks Next Month

CSU 52, representing some 5,000 civic employees, remains steadfast in its commitment to a work stoppage if a better deal isn't put on the table

Last month, we brought you news that a union representing some 5,000 civic workers in the City of Edmonton was poised to walk off the job in late November, potentially grinding City services to a halt. Now, as that date approaches, timelines have shifted.

Lanny Chudyk, the president of Civic Service Union 52 (CSU 52), said the organization is preparing for mediation meetings with the City, which are slated for December 5, 6 and 13.

In October, CSU 52’s membership voted in favour (by a margin of 86 per cent) of a work stoppage if their demands for a higher wage increase were not met by the City. So far, the City has offered the union a wage increase of zero per cent, one per cent and two per cent over three years. This comes after five years of no increases.

“The City has continued to operate over the past five or six years by trying to subsidize their capital budget by starving the operational budget and you can only do that for so long before things start to break,” Chudyk said.

Still, Chudyk remains hopeful his members and the City can come to an agreement during mediation, noting the two parties have been in talks for well over a year.

“We’ve been at the bargaining table trying to hammer out something for a year-and-a-half and it took us almost a year-and-a-half to get to the monetary aspect, so we shall we what happens when we get to the table. I’m hopeful,” he said.

Still, CSU 52 remains committed to its initial vote to strike if the City isn’t willing to budge on its preliminary offer.

“If the numbers are still zero, one and two, then I don’t see a mediator being able to bring us together,” he said.

That first number — zero — that’s a major sticking point for CSU 52, which Chudyk says is unified in its rejection of any zeroes included in a deal.

“Throughout the last year, particularly in meetings to discuss bargaining, the overwhelming position of my members is no zeroes,” Chudyk said. “They find that to be very disrespectful, the zero, one per cent and two per cent, and are prepared to have a work stoppage.”

CSU 52 voluntarily accepted zero per cent wage increases in both 2019 and 2020.

For its part, the City has consistently indicated it won’t comment on the dispute while it’s in the mediation process.

The City is currently facing a more than $450 million maintenance budget shortfall and a $73.8 million annual budget deficit. On top of that, arbitration with the City’s police union, the Edmonton Police Association (EPA), awarded the EPA 1.5 per cent, three per cent and 2.5 per cent in wage increases over three years. That increase has caused contention within council and prompted talks of a tax rate increase.

All of these constraints have left the City little wiggle room when it comes to finding funding for other aspects of City operations. But Chudyk doesn’t think a poorly performing pocketbook is carte blanche for a lower dollar value deal, saying the City should have accounted for wage increases in the first place.

“It’s incumbent upon any organization — private or public — to budget for … labour increases and wages sooner or later,” he said. “If the City has failed to do that, then they’ve been derelict in their duty.

“When we hear the City saying they were shocked by the EPA arbitration because [they] didn’t budget for that, my comment is that someone should be held accountable because if you thought an arbitrator in this province was going to award the City zero, one and two for police services then someone is either incompetent or they must have been smoking something.”

So, if not zero, one and two per cent, what would CSU 52 accept from the City? Well, Chudyk says the minimum would be in the range of what the City of Calgary settled on with CUPE 38: 1.5, 1.5 and two per cent.

“That’s probably in the range we would be able to take back to our members and advocate on,” he said.