Union Head: “People Are Simply Hanging on Right Now”

Union wants to avoid a strike, but will reassess its options if it can't make progress in talks with the City

A union representing 5,000 City of Edmonton employees is in a stalemate with the City after demanding an end to its five-year wage freeze.

Civil Service Union 52 president Lanny Chudyk says its unfair for his workers to keep taking zeroes, especially after the city manager got a three per cent wage increase last year and city councillors were granted 2.4-per cent hikes in April after a two-year freeze.

“If the highest paid employee is worth a three-per cent increase, what about the lowest paid employees? I mean, where’s the fairness and equity?” Chudyk says.

CSU 52, which includes Edmonton Public Library workers, 911 dispatchers, clerical staff, EPCOR and numerous other employee groups — held a rally outside City Hall last week.

The union’s contractual agreement expired at the end of 2021 and negotiations didn’t start until late summer 2022. Since then, he says, meetings have been taking place for half-days, every two or three weeks, with little movement, and he’s getting frustrated by the slow progress.

“It’s been a grind,” Chudyk says.

The union hired a public relations firm to spread its message ahead of last week’s rally.

CSU includes a wide range of employees who don’t fit into other, more specific unions, and Chudyk says many are in positions dominated by women and newcomers to Canada, who are “significantly” behind in pay.

“I look at my comms people, my 911 dispatchers over at Edmonton Police Service. They’re running about 30 per cent behind similar work areas in major comparable municipalities in Canada,” he says.

Chudyk says he’s asking for a pay increase that is modest, but more than the zero-, one- and two-per cent increase over three years that the City is offering. He says Calgary City workers recently got 1.5, 1.5 and 2.0 per cent over three years, while last month the Edmonton Police Association was granted 1.5, 3.0 and 2.5 per cent over three years. “Somewhere in that Calgary/EPA arbitrated range is what I think we could take to our members,” he says.

The union is also asking for better work-life balance, after what Chudyk says has been a shift to longer work hours and fewer earned days off. He says that shift has not sat well, particularly with workers under age 35, and people are leaving their jobs because of low pay and poor work-life balance.

“You know, this city has become a bit regressive. We continually talk about how progressive we are, but we haven’t been progressive in our workforce,” he says.

“It’s creating problems in some of these areas where people are saying, ‘Hey, I can go work somewhere else for the same salary, if not a better salary, and better work-life balance,’ and that’s what they’re doing.”

City spokesperson Lisa Glover wrote in an email that the city continues to be “actively engaged” in the collective bargaining process.

“The City is committed to reaching an agreement that is fair and equitable for its approximately 5,000 CSU 52 employees, the City and taxpayers,” Glover wrote. “Out of respect for the bargaining process and people involved, we will not be commenting further at this time.”

But after being frozen since 2018, through high inflation and climbing interest rates, Chudyk says the matter has become urgent. He says he hopes to avoid strike action, but will have to ask members for direction if progress is not made by mid-September.

“I have a number of members whose mortgages come up this fall. I don’t believe they’re going to be able to afford the mortgage costs because it’s going to, in some cases, double their mortgage payments – and people are simply hanging on right now,” he says.

(Note: The editor of Urban Affairs is married to an EPL employee, and played no active role in the writing or editing of this story).