Wage freezes will likely be pitched to city unions as a starting point for labour negotiations after most of the city’s contracts expired just days into 2018.
Nine of the city’s 10 collective bargaining agreements, including those of its largest unions — inside and outside workers, police, fire and transit — have expired, and city officials have made no secret of the fact they’ll be seeking concessions from its unionized workforce to help manage a ballooning operations budget, the bulk of which is spent on its more than 13,000 personnel.
Coun. Shane Keating was on the last council that negotiated generous four-year deals with the city’s two largest unions in 2014, just months before Alberta’s economy nose-dived in the wake of plummeting oil prices and mass private sector layoffs.
The veteran councillor said as city officials enter negotiations with the unions, they’ll be reminded of the financial security they benefited from in a tumultuous economic time that’s only now beginning to see signs of recovery.
“It’s an absolute expectation that unions accept the fact that they did very well in the downturn,” Keating said.
“We hope they come to the realization that they might have to accept wage freezes over the next two or three years. No matter what happens, we have to balance our books.”
Prior to last October’s civic election, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said unions will likely be asked to make concessions on their wages to reflect the city’s new financial reality. Later this year, the city will begin crafting its next four-year budget blueprint.
Rookie Coun. Jeromy Farkas agreed with Keating that the city needs to significantly alter the playing field with its unions to ensure taxpayers aren’t saddled with a mounting burden.
“I think a wage freeze for several years will be a starting point — I’d say absolutely nothing is off the table to reduce costs,” Farkas said.
“Looking at the overall economy, it’s important for the government to lead by example.”
Farkas added he isn’t keen no considering layoffs for city staff, and hopes that reasonable agreements on the wage side will prevent that.
But D’Arcy Lanovaz, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 38, responsible for the city’s inside workers, dismissed the notion that city unions benefited from overly generous wage concessions prior to Alberta’s economic swoon.
“I just go back to the times when the economy was great, and the message we’d get is ‘you’re not the private sector, so you don’t get those kinds of highs.’ Now they’re trying to compare us to the private sector,” Lanovaz said.
“We understand in the public sector we don’t get those highs, but at the same time we shouldn’t suffer in the low times either.”
Lanovaz said city unions have already made significant concessions by swallowing hiring freezes, forcing unionized employees to do more than they’ve had to in the past.
“People are stretched really thin,” he said, noting talks with the city remain in the very early stages.
Les Kaminski, president of the Calgary Police Association, said he realizes the city is in a financial bind, which should open the door to other concessions if unions are willing to give on the wage side.
“We have a lot sympathy for the fact they’re in a bit of a financial bind,” he said.
“Hopefully there will be some other concessions we can look at.”
The only city union that remains under contract is the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 254, who will see their collective agreement expire March 30.
On Twitter: @ShawnLogan403