By Collin Gallant on August 9, 2017.
The City of Medicine Hat has secured a wage freeze with its power plant and power line workers for this year — making it three zeros in 2017 with the three largest unions it deals with.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 254 represents about 80 workers in two bargaining units, one for the power and water treatment plants, and another for power distribution workers.
In Medicine Hat, the terms over the length of the deal put it well below average settlements elsewhere in Alberta.
In simple terms it involves a 7 per cent raise over four years — the average union utility worker in Alberta will see 10.05 per cent over the same time, according to Alberta Labour’s mediation service.
Locally, wages won’t rise in 2017, which city budget planners say is key to addressing a shortfall caused by a reliance on energy and gas income that has largely disappeared.
Politicians said Tuesday that unions are doing their part.
“The majority of our workers understand the situation that we’re in,” said Coun. Robert Dumanowski, council’s representative in labour negotiations. He introduced the item and called the deal “nearly unprecedented.”
“The fact is and the fact remains that we have significant challenges … (Unions) are doing their part and we’re giving them support.”
Coun. Bill Cocks said the agreement was “forthright” and “responsible.”
“As a council and community we know that it’s a difficult time for the economy,” he said. “We just cant justify a raise this year.”
The agreement does call for a 3 per cent increase, retroactive to the end of the previous contract in early 2016, then no raise in 2017, and 2 per cent in each of the final two years.
It mimics two other settlements in the last 10 months that involved retroactive years, based largely on conditions at that time, and raises of 2 per cent in years out.
The International Association of Firefighters, Local 263, agreed to a combined raise of 3.1 per cent for catch-up years of 2015 and 2016, and 2 per cent in 2018.
The city’s largest bargaining unit — the 850 members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 46 — accepted zero in 2017, and four per cent in total over three years.
Medicine Hat Police Service is the only union working with the city without a current contract.
Council members said they do not expect to see a deal reached prior to the October election.
Last year the city revealed it faced a $23 million budget shortfall, equal to about one-quarter its total budget, as profits and dividends for its energy exploration interests and power plant dried up.
In response, administrators vowed to fill the void by cutting costs, seeking a wage freeze, reviewing programs and using reserve funds to stagger in tax increases.
Mayor Ted Clugston has long complained that wage settlements in other cities have pushed up wages everywhere, but Medicine Hat seems to be holding the line.
“I don’t want to make this about union bashing, or breaking unions, but I do think we’re a community that works together.”
“I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished and what the unions have accomplished,” he said. “We haven’t had labour strife, strikes or walkouts.”
Of 24 major contracts in place between mostly private utility companies in Alberta and unions for 2016, the average raise that year was 2.8 per cent.
This year sees an average wage hike of 2 per cent for nearly 5,000 private utility workers, and eight current contracts with a 2018 year call for raises between 2 and 2.5 per cent.
Only two major contracts include 2019, at Enmax and Alta Link, and both call for raises of 3 per cent that year. Those pacts, involving about 1,100 workers in total, were signed after August 2016.
Note: This story has been updated to correct the Local the union represents.
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