Council readies for tough negotiations
City council gave directions to its management negotiating team Monday for upcoming contract talks with 1,700 city workers, during a closeddoor strategy session that lasted about five hours.
“Members of council asked for tonight’s session as an opportunity to look at details line-by-line on a variety of issues as they may be tabled or proposed to negotiating teams on both sides,” said Mayor Eddie Francis.
“By giving directions up front, it allows our negotiating team to go into the room and negotiate the best possible deal by knowing the expectations of council.”
Faced with declining tax revenues, a struggling economy and pressures to maintain service levels, council is bracing for a difficult round of contract talks with about 1,400 inside and 300 outside workers who are represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees. The current contract expires Dec. 31. The two sides have set an Oct. 1 deadline to exchange their negotiating positions. The plan is to begin contract talks about three weeks later.
“Council is very much involved,” Francis said. “They are contributing and providing some valuable opinions into the process.”
During the closed-door session coun- cil was briefed by the city’s human resources and finance departments on historical trends, predicted costs and potential future trends for municipal revenues. Councillors also learned about employee salary and benefit costs.
“We walked through the different issues,” the mayor said. “At the end of the session, they gave to the negotiating team input that will help form their position in terms of the proposals to be exchanged.”
Francis has said repeatedly in the past month that the city’s recent history of handing out three per cent annual salary increases will no longer work given the city’s commitment in recent years to a zero per cent budget tax levy increase.
Plant closures, store vacancies and decreasing property values are expected to cut the city’s tax revenue by up to $7 million next year, according to a recent city finance report. The city has already penciled in about $5.5 million in salary increases for next year, pending contract talks, setting up a major challenge to ease the impact on taxpayers.
Union leaders have countered its members have been stuck with increased workloads due to the reduction of about 30 jobs through attrition and layoffs during the past three years. They have pointed to the number of studies, consultants and legal fees the city takes on to conduct business as evidence there is money available.