July 17th, 2019

City Notebook: Negotiating under expired contracts not at all new

By Collin Gallant on January 12, 2019.

City Hall and its police officers are in binding arbitration to settle two-year old contract talks, the News revealed on Friday morning, but it’s certainly not the first time municipal employees have operated for years on end without a contract in place.

It’s also not the first time municipal wages have become a point of contention.

Holding over in the public mindset is probably a News story in 2011 that stated local cops were among the highest paid in the country. That state of affairs was technically true for a couple months before other departments signed retroactive deals that set their then current wages back above local levels.

Using the same logic today, Medicine Hat cops still technically on the 2016 pay grid would be the lowest paid in Alberta right now — about equal with a bylaw officer in Taber, while officers in Edmonton make $10,000 per year more.

It’s sort of the nature in labour relations in all sectors to play catch-up or let talks go on for some time.

In this vein, there are a few items of local concern not in the latest provincial bargaining update.

Also outstanding for about 18 months is the biggest collective agreement in the region, that between JBS and the United Food and Commercial Workers, who represent more than 2,000 workers at the Brooks packing plant. Attention ranchers: the UFCW is also in talks with Cargill regarding the High River plant. Those two facilities handle something approaching 90 per cent of the cattle processed in the province.

Closer to Medicine Hat, a deal between Goodyear and about 250 members of the United Steelworkers employed at the plant here expired about 18 months ago.

At Medicine Hat College, about 163 non-faculty workers have been without a contract since mid-2017 as province-wide bargaining takes place. The contract with the 325-member faculty association ended last summer.

Safe consumption

A planning proposal about how to write safe consumption sites into city zoning would also create a definition of “cannabis lounge.” Such things are not yet legal, but the province is exploring the idea.

As proposed, a consumption facility would be added to the “Downtown mixed-use” zone definition. The whole issue will go to a public hearing and a raucous affair is predicted.

Regional roundup

The latest bit of evidence that little bits can add up to a whole lot comes from Etzikom by way of the community grant from rural power provider Equs.

The rural electrification association for the area has for several years been running the cleverly named Operation Round-up to raise funds for projects in areas in which it operates.

This gist is that ratepayers can agree to have their monthly bills rounded up to the nearest dollar and difference pooled for community projects.

According to the latest statement from the REA, about 97 per cent of members take part, and because of the way rounding process works, the average annual donation is about $6 per account.

That’s raised almost $200,000 over the past several years, and according the latest edition of the Equs newsletter, the monthly grant allotted $5,000 toward supplies to replace the roof of the windmill museum in the hamlet south of Medicine Hat.

100 years ago

Equal pay for equal work by men and women was the emergent issue of the Alberta Federation of Labour congress held in Medicine Hat in January 1919, the News of the day reported.

“In industry, women have shown their ability to do work previously held beyond powers with a facility and dexterity equal to that of men,” wrote one commentator in News. While many will return to domestic rolls with soldiers returning, those who remain in the workforce hold economic and social rights that must be observed, he concluded.

Also stemming from the conference, the Redcliff Glass Works was charged with employing girls and boys as young as 12, after delegates toured the facility and complained to authorities.

The Great War Veterans Association convention in Lethbridge called for a Royal Commission to investigate the prosperity of “enemy aliens” in Canada during the recently concluded conflict, and unanimously passed a motion that they be barred from voting for the next 20 years, during with time all immigration from defeated nations be halted entirely.

The local Rotary Club set the goal of raising $1,000 to increase public education in Medicine hat with an aim of spending the money to increase teachers salaries.

Collin Gallant covers city politics and a variety of topics for the News. Reach him at 403-528-5664 or via email at cgallant@medicinehatnews.com

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