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Edmonton civic worker strike averted until Friday as city, union agree to further bargaining

A strike that would have seen thousands of city workers walk off the job Thursday has been temporarily averted, hours before it was set to begin.

Around 6,000 members of Civic Service Union 52 were expected to hit the picket line at 11 a.m. today. They could now  walk off the job Friday morning.

A union spokesperson confirmed to CBC News that the strike action has been temporarily delayed as collective bargaining resumes. 

In a joint statement Thursday morning, city manager Andre Corbould and union president Lanny Chudyk said the city and the union are engaging in further collective bargaining.

The notice says both sides have agreed that the 72-hour strike notice served to the city on Monday will be amended so that the new time for the start of a strike would be 11 a.m. Friday.

Union members are expected to continue working during this time, the joint statement said.

Thursday’s statement came hours after the city said talks were at an impasse and the union criticized administration for refusing to return to the negotiating table.

The work stoppage, if it goes ahead, would trigger widespread service shutdowns, close city attractions and buildings and disrupt the daily business of city hall.

More than 5,000 front-line, administrative and clerical workers had been expected to walk off the job Thursday.

Around 680 Edmonton Public Library staff were also going to strike.

Negotiations between the city and Civic Service Union 52 broke down weeks ago. Edmontonians have been warned to brace for what could be a prolonged work stoppage.

‘Difficult days ahead’

At a news conference Wednesday, Corbould said Edmontonians should be prepared for disruptions. He said the strike would lead to delays and service shutdowns but with the budget constraints faced by the city, administration was not prepared to budge on its latest offer.

“We are disappointed to have reached this point and we know how hard the coming weeks will be on our employees and Edmontonians. 

“I want to be clear because we know there will be some difficult days ahead. We do value our employees and the important work they do and we also respect their legal right to strike.” 

The workers serve in more than 250 different positions in dozens of departments within the city’s purview. They include 911 dispatchers, 311 operators, front desk managers, city clerks as well as communications and IT staff. 

If the strike proceeds, libraries and city attractions would close.

Recreation centres, arenas and pools would only be open to people with pre-existing bookings. All drop-in and registered programs at parks, attractions, arts, and heritage facilities would be cancelled indefinitely.

At city hall, public hearings would continue but council meetings will only be held for items deemed critical to ongoing operations. 

The city’s 311 complaint service would be limited to urgent public safety and bylaw matters only while 911 dispatch will be staffed by officers pulled in from other police departments.

Police information checks, local police records checks, fingerprinting and alarm permit services would also remain cancelled and front counters at detachments close.

Wages have been at the centre of the labour dispute, and both sides haved remained firmly entrenched.

The union has repeatedly rejected the city’s latest offer of a 7.25 per cent wage increase over five years. 

Meanwhile, administration officials have maintained that their latest proposal, one they have described as their best and final offer, is fair and equitable.

In a joint statement Tuesday, council members threw their support behind administration, suggesting that accepting the union demands would strain the budget and trigger steep tax hikes. 

Workers involved in the dispute have not had a wage increase since 2018 and have been without a contract since 2020.

Chudyk met with Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi Tuesday but said no progress was made.

The strike is a last resort but may be a necessary one, Chudyk said Wednesday. 

“We do not want this strike to happen. What we want is a fair and equitable deal for CSU 52 members.” 

The last strike by the Civic Service Union was in 1976.

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