Calgary city council voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion to officially request unionized city employees to voluntarily take a wage freeze or wage reduction up to five per cent.
The motion passed Tuesday night 14-1, with only Coun. Gian Carlo-Carra opposed.
Union employees are due for a 1.5 per cent wage increase in 2020.
City council cannot legally mandate a wage freeze or cut, but most councillors believe that given the current financial situation, it’s worth asking the unions to forgo the increase.
Ward 11 Coun. Jeromy Farkas, who submitted the notice of motion along with four others, said the council is “up against the wall” and if a wage freeze is agreed to, it could help the city avoid laying off workers.
“I think particularly given the economy, the way it is, particularly given huge unemployment in the city, I think it’s only fair to ask city staff to come to the table and take a look at matching some of the sacrifices that both families and businesses have been forced to,” he said.
Ward 1 Coun. Ward Sutherland, who had his own notice of motion folded into Farkas’, said an increase to union wages would result in an increase in taxes.
“Are city employees the enemy? Of course they’re not the enemy, but they’re also part of the solution. If they don’t choose to be the solution, then, of course, we’re going to have conflict,” he said.
Sutherland said this is about efficiency and competition.
“We’d prefer that the unions work with us rather than against us,” he said.
Cyril Wilson, president of CUPE Local 37, said the request for a rollback is concerning.
“I don’t think it’s a fair ask when you bargain a collective agreement,” he said. “You know it’s against the law to actually just roll back, so they come with an ask but they also talk about contracting out and there will be job losses.
“I don’t know how you expect a membership to accept that kind of resolve when they want you to give something back but don’t want to give you anything in return.”
CUPE represents up to 2,700 workers, Wilson said.
“Whether we take a rollback or concessions or anything, it does not guarantee no layoffs, no job losses,” he said.