Tension builds between Edmonton city council and union; CSU 52 strike 1 day away

Click to play video: 'Thousands potentially impacted by looming CSU 52 strike'
Thousands potentially impacted by looming CSU 52 strike
WATCH: The implications of the looming CSU 52 workers strike are far reaching, from police services to libraries and even cemeteries. Jasmine King explores what this could mean for families laying loved ones to rest and whether there's enough space for them – Mar 13, 2024

With a potential strike that would affect many City of Edmonton services just one day away, the back and forth continues between city council and the union.

The Civic Service Union (CSU 52) served strike notice Monday at 11 a.m. The union said the picket line will begin Thursday at 11 a.m.

CSU 52 represents about 6,000 technical, professional, administrative and clerical workers within the City of Edmonton and Edmonton Public Library, including police communications (911 operators), 311 support agents, city planners, safety code and building code officers, permit processors, recreation centre employees, animal welfare co-ordinators, tax assessors, librarians, pages and professional services.

The city said its negotiations with the union included 30 bargaining sessions and multiple mediation dates. The city’s first proposals were made in September 2022, said acting chief people officer Cyndil Taylor. At the end of January, CSU 52 held several emergency meetings with members as contract negotiations with the city stalled.

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CSU 52 told Global News that Mayor Amarjeet Sohi met with union president Lanny Chudyk earlier Tuesday, but no progress was made.

“I know you haven’t heard a lot from me or the city administration over the course of negotiations with CSU 52,” city manager Andre Corbould said during a news conference on Wednesday. “That has been intentional. We don’t believe in negotiating in the press or via social media.

“The city respects the collective bargaining process and we wanted to let negotiations unfold where they should: at the negotiating table.

“We now need to be transparent and ensure Edmontonians have accurate information.”

Click to play video: 'CSU 52 serves strike notice to City of Edmonton'
CSU 52 serves strike notice to City of Edmonton

The city has adjusted its offer but now it feels like they’re at an impasse, Corbould said.

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“I don’t believe going to a table now, when I don’t have more to offer, would be in good faith.”

The negotiations weren’t just about monetary compensation, city officials said, but also included retroactive pay and hybrid work.

Corbould outlined the city’s best and final offer to union members: a 7.25-per cent wage increase over five years. He said a five-year agreement would create stability for the city and workers. There hasn’t been a collective bargaining agreement in place for five years, he said.

The city manager said about 60 per cent of City of Edmonton staff — roughly 8,000 employees — who are not part of CSU 52 have already accepted similar offers.

The union’s request would see a 12.5-per cent pay increase over five years, Corbould said, numbers which are confirmed on CSU 52’s website.

City of Edmonton and CSU 52 contract negotiation proposals. March 2024. Global News

The city manager said accepting CSU 52’s demands would result in a 2.5-per cent property tax increase to Edmontonians this year and two per cent the next year.

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Corbould said he’s heard how citizens feel about the tax increase already, and “we do not feel this additional impact is appropriate given the current financial constraints.”

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“We are very sympathetic to union members who feel their salaries have not met changes in the cost of living. I think many Edmontonians share that same feeling. Those inflationary pressures have been the result of multiple pressures that the city alone cannot rectify,” Corbould said.

“Edmonton taxpayers alone cannot bear the brunt of these cost pressures, particularly as many of our local households and businesses are also feeling the very same pressures.”

“Mayor Sohi might be surprised to know he’s not the only one struggling with increased costs and needing to take a big bump on his salary, which is more than the premier of Alberta,” Chudyk said. “My members making 45, 50, 55,000 a year are feeling huge financial pain here.”

On Wednesday, Sohi was asked if councillors were going to accept a salary increase this year.

“The council salaries are not determined by council; they’re determined by an independent body and that body was set up by the previous council,” he said.

“If you look at the last four years of council salary increases, they are below what is being offered to CSU 52 for the same duration.”

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Click to play video: 'CSU 52 representing many city employees serving strike notice to Edmonton'
CSU 52 representing many city employees serving strike notice to Edmonton

On Tuesday evening, Sohi shared a statement that was signed by him and all councillors on social media.

It said, in part, that “all members of council are united in our desire to reach a fair and equitable resolution for all city employees.”

Council said the city offered “CSU 52 members a fair and equitable deal” that “includes 7.25 per cent in total wage increases over five years. About 8,0000 city employees have already accepted a similar increase for 2023, 2022 and 2023.”

Council said it also has to be fair to Edmontonians — balancing the union’s requests with “the current fiscal pressures faced by the city and Edmontonians.”

“The proposal put forward by CSU 52 would result in an additional tax increase of 2.5 per cent ($47.5M) for 2024 if applied to all the city workforce. There would also be a one-time $17-million unfunded retroactive payment that would be due immediately. The overall tax impact would be an increase to 9.1 per cent in 2024,” council’s statement said.

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It ended by saying “the city’s negotiating team will continue to be open to discussions.”

The union issued a statement Wednesday in response.

Chudyk slammed council for “passing the cost of front-line workers onto taxpayers instead of making hard choices on discretionary projects.”

“Leadership is taking a look at the ‘nice-to-haves’ and making hard choices.

“Blatchford, electric buses, the hydrogen fueling station, LRT projects — the list of money mismanagement this council oversees is long and their inexperience continues to show,” the union president said.

“This should not be the burden of the taxpayer.”

He said he questions the numbers released by the mayor and council in the statement, saying CSU 52 is not negotiating for all City of Edmonton employees.

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Chudyk also called out the continuous urging to “return to the negotiating table.”

“We sent an official request to return to the table Monday morning and still haven’t received a word from their negotiating team. It is impossible to negotiate with a party that has not come to the bargaining table since December 2023.”

The union does not want to strike either, Chudyk stressed.

“My members and myself take a work stoppage very seriously,” he said. “We do not want to be out there tomorrow. We have bent over backwards trying to create a workable agreement for both parties over the last 18 months.

“We’d also worked towards trying to craft some non-monetary issues into the agreement that might have allowed us to look at a zero, one and two (per cent increases), or maybe just a touch of a higher offer, and the answer consistently was: ‘No. No. No,'” he said.

“What we want is a fair and equitable deal for CSU 52 members instead we will see a strike that will see far-reaching impacts for Edmontonians — something this city has not had to deal (with) in nearly 50 years.”

“They chose discretionary capital projects over paying their staff,” Chudyk said.

Click to play video: 'Concerns with Edmonton’s proposed property tax increase'
Concerns with Edmonton’s proposed property tax increase

The city said Tuesday it is hoping for a quick resolution, but preparing for a prolonged disruption.

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A strike would mean all City of Edmonton recreation, sport and leisure centres would close to the general public except pre-arranged rentals/bookings, including arena bookings, pool bookings, gymnasium bookings and room bookings.

Drop-in and registered programs at City of Edmonton attractions would be cancelled and Edmonton Public Library locations will close at 11 a.m. on Thursday.

All front counters at Edmonton Police Service locations will be closed except for the downtown branch.

311 will experience significant disruption. The 311 phone service will be limited to urgent public safety and bylaw matters only and some services have been removed from the 311 app.

“There’s obviously going to be a process that folks that have rec centre passes will have days added on to the rec centre passes,” Coun. Andrew Knack said Wednesday. “Once this is resolved, there will be a process to make sure anyone who’s had these passes can get back what they’ve essentially paid for.

“But we need to get through this and hopefully it will be a very, very minimal disruption because we know that every day that those recreation opportunities aren’t available to people, it has a real impact.”

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