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Edmonton unions wondering about provincial chill in negotiations

Travis Toews, Minister of Finance, speaks to the media in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019. Alberta's nurses are seeking to have the proposed three per cent cut to their wages nullified.The demand is contained in a complaint of bad-faith bargaining filed by the the United Nurses of Alberta with the provincial Labour Relations Board.
Travis Toews, Minister of Finance, speaks to the media in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019. Alberta's nurses are seeking to have the proposed three per cent cut to their wages nullified.The demand is contained in a complaint of bad-faith bargaining filed by the the United Nurses of Alberta with the provincial Labour Relations Board. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

A question lingering at Edmonton City Hall over contract talks with unions is whether what has happened at the Alberta legislature this week will have a ripple effect on the city.

City of Edmonton unions were shocked at an announcement by the Kenney government on Tuesday.

The UCP government will ask arbitrators to impose an average two per cent wage cut in 30 upcoming public sector wage cases, although the amount will vary. That’s down from a zero per cent offer that was made earlier this year.

Edmonton’s civic unions are also in negotiation and the city took its cue from the province and has made its own opening stance a zero per cent offer.

“We were given an offer before and I’m not sure if it’s still going to be in effect or not,” confided Mark Tetterington, the president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 569, ahead of a in-private bargaining update that will be given to city council on Nov 5.

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“The offer was zero [per cent], zero [per cent], and one per cent on Jan. 1 of 2021, and 0.5 [per cent] on June 24 of 2021.”

In early September, the City of Edmonton and members of two unions ratified collective agreements for 2019-2021.

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 569 (DATS) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1007 reached new collective agreements in which the wage terms amounted to a 0 per cent increase effective December 2018, 0 per cent effective December 2019, one per cent in December 2020, and an additional 0.5 per cent in June 2021.

The city says negotiations are ongoing with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 569, the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 30 and Civic Service Union Local 52. The previous collective agreements with those unions expired in December 2018.

READ MORE: City reaches contract agreement with Edmonton police and fire unions

The announcement by the province “shocked” Tetterington.

“We knew it was going to be a gloomy budget by the province, but we didn’t think it was going to be near this bad,” he said.

“I think it’s going to affect every Albertan, every Edmontonian and I think it’s too harsh of a cut.”

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The four-year, 1.5 per cent increase that was presented to CSU 52, as well as the main transit union and CUPE Local 30 — Edmonton’s three biggest civic unions — mirrors what has been accepted by two other bargaining groups with the city, the IBEW and the DATS unit within the transit union.

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Tetterington said he’s not sure if the new terms that are being talked about with the province will change the view of city workers.

“That’ll be up to our membership,” he said.

“[If] they’re going to be coming back with some other mandate, I’m not sure. It’ll be up to them to decide.”

READ MORE: Council settles on 2.6% Edmonton property tax increase for next 4 years

Tuesday’s bargaining update will be part of a day-long budget discussion for city council.

“It’s going to be a gloomy budget I think,” Tetterington said. “We’re going to have to look at what’s coming next I guess.

“I think next year, I’m guessing zeros, and I’m hoping it’s zeros, and it’s going to be major for all of the unions and all of the employees.”

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In related cost-cutting and contract news, the province passed an order in council this week to reduce their pension contributions for all managers from 17.2 per cent to 13.2 per cent.