By COLLIN GALLANT on August 18, 2020.
A surprise union contract settlement that includes a two-year wage freeze could set the standard in trying financial times, city councillors said Monday night.
Council members voted 9-0 in favour of the offer and lauded employees for doing the same in a vote last week by members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local No. 46.
Details released after council’s session show the three-year contract includes no wage increase this year or next, then provides a 2 per cent boost the final year, 2022.
It replaces the previous agreement that expired at the end of 2019 and also included a wage freeze in the first year of 2017, then raises in subsequent years.
“It’s a significant move on the part of the union and the city to move on this and get it settled in a very difficult environment,” said Coun. Robert Dumanowski, who introduced the motion.
“(The wage component) is applicable of the times and shows the good faith and good relationship that the city (management) has with CUPE.”
CUPE president Jim Hall told the News on Monday that a clear majority of his members voted in favour during five voting sessions last week, but exact numbers would not be released.
Overall, said Hall, to maintain the workforce and wages at status quo had members feeling “pretty good.”
“There are a lot of factors at play, but it’s a good resolution,” said Hall.
“Zero wage increases is tough, but you’ve got to recognize the world we’re living in.”
The contract with about 700 inside, outside and transit workers is the largest within the city and is the first deal struck in a new general round of bargaining. Contracts with lineman and power plant workers, as well as firefighters are currently expired, and the pact with the Medicine Hat Police Association ends in late 2020.
Those contracts included a wage freeze for 2017, a strategy broadcast by administrators a year earlier in the Financially Fit budget plan. There was no direct message about wage control in the current city budget, but the plan still calls to control inflationary and wage pressure while staggered tax hikes reverse a revenue shortfall caused by low gas prices.
Mayor Ted Clugston said the workforce is key to the city operations and there’s a need to tighten the budget.
“I can’t say enough about CUPE coming forward and ratifying this deal,” said Clugston. “There’s been a lot of zeros for a lot of people over the years. I think the message is out there that we all have to work together.”
Coun. Phil Turnbull, who voted against a police contract this term and each settlement during his 2012-2015 term, voted in favour on Monday.
“We’ve got a contract that will help us hold the line on taxes,” he said, stating the agreement sets a standard the city should hold in talks with other unions.