April 19th, 2019

City, union agree to four-year deal

By Kalinowski, Tim on December 15, 2018.

Tim Kalinowski

Lethbridge Herald


City council has bought labour peace for the next four years after voting to approve a new agreement with its largest union.

“What we are looking at is labour peace and being fair employers,” said Mayor Chris Spearman, after a vote of 7-2 earlier this week approved the agreement with CUPE Local 70 members, who represent about half the city’s workforce. “The first year increase is one per cent. It’s 1.5 per cent for the next two years, and two per cent in year four. Those are reasonable increases.”

Spearman said there was give and take on both sides of the agreement, and he was grateful to union members for keeping in mind the City’s budget constraints during negotiations.

“There was a negotiating process, and there was some concessions which people don’t see which offset those labour increases,” Spearman said. “That’s what we wanted: some level of management rights in order to manage costs in the agreement. But a four-year agreement gives us assurity and we certainly commend our employees and thank them for their contribution to making sure our city is efficient.”

CUPE Local 70 chief shop steward Don Nishikawa, who was on the bargaining team, said given the economic circumstances of the City, his members felt this was the best agreement they could make at this time.

“With the economy being down in Alberta, we kind of expected this would happen,” Nishikawa confirmed. “We have seen other union groups where they have settled for one per cent across the board, and we weren’t expecting a lot more at this time. When you look at the health-care industry right now, they were getting zeros, right? The teachers have been getting zeros for awhile. So we are pretty happy with what we were able to get.”

CUPE Local 70 members voted to ratify the agreement with a two-thirds majority prior to it coming back to council for final approval on Monday. Nishikawa said he was pleased by such a strong endorsement.

“You go into negotiating the thought is both sides should feel like they were scoring a bit, and are happy because they got something they wanted,” he said. “We both benefited out of the agreement.”

City manager Bram Strain said it was a relief to have this labour agreement settled so he and his staff could move on with the other priorities of council.

“We’re all being asked to do our share to keep taxes down,” he said. “We have to live within our means, and we feel this is a fair and equitable deal because it helps us get there.”

The City intends to do wide-reaching costing reviews on levels of services and various fees for service over the next few years to meet council’s tight budget objectives. Strain was asked if those costing reviews could lead to potential layoffs going forward as departments are being asked to absorb inflation and additional costs.

“It would be premature if I said anything along those lines,” he answered. “Obviously we are going to have to look at what those costing reviews give us. Value for money is really the bottom line.”

The new four-year agreement between CUPE Local 70 and the City will take effect as of Jan. 1.

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