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Union, city realize any negotiated raise for Edmonton civic workers who voted overwhelmingly to strike ‘a balancing act’

Workers for the City of Edmonton and its public library who voted overwhelmingly over the last week in favour of strike action want a fair raise “that does not impact taxpayers severely.”

“We haven’t been asking for the moon,” Lanny Chudyk, president of the Civic Services Union 52 that represents more than 6,000 people employed by the city and the library, told media on Wednesday outside City Hall.

Those workers include technical, professional, administrative and clerical employees between the bargaining units for city and library workers.

Of the 83 per cent of workers in the union’s City of Edmonton bargaining unit that voted on whether or not to strike, 91 per cent of them voted in favour of it.

Last week, 94 per cent of Edmonton Public Library workers that voted said they are in favour of strike action. The strike vote turnout for library employees was 93 per cent.

CSU 52 applied for a strike vote following a mandatory 14-day cooling-off period that ended Jan. 30.

It came after contract negotiations between the city and the bargaining units stalled, the union said in late January.

In a media statement issued Wednesday, the city — which has offered CSU 52 members a 7.25-per-cent wage increase over five years — said it is continuing to work with the Alberta Labour Relations Board “to conduct an employer proposal vote that will ensure every eligible union member can vote directly on the City’s offer.”

“The city made an offer to CSU 52 which includes wage increases and a commitment to hybrid work, among other items of benefit for the members,” Michelle Plouffe, the City of Edmonton’s chief people officer, said in the statement, adding the city is “disappointed” in the results of the strike votes.

“We believe it is a fair and equitable offer.”

The city applied last week to the labour board for approval of a lockout poll. CSU 52 told CTV News Edmonton last week the library has also applied to the board for one.

The applications are the first step toward a potential lockout.

Chudyk said while members want a negotiated settlement, the union is “willing to look at different ways to come to an agreement that would be fair to my membership and fair to the public in Edmonton.”

“We are taxpayers, too. We understand what the city’s financial position is,” he said. “The problem we have is understanding how the city got themselves in this financial position.”

That position, Chudyk said, has resulted in his union’s members not receiving a wage increase in the last five years.

“We’re in the sixth year of zeros now, so when the city makes comments like this tax increase, this property tax increase is because of union wages — it certainly hasn’t been (wage increases for) my members,” he said.

An arbitrated city salary settlement for Edmonton Police Service (EPS) officers worth $20 million contributed to an increase in property taxes for 2024.

“If the city didn’t budget for EPS increases, somebody should be fired, because in this province, when a police union goes to an arbitration, to think you were going to do 0 per cent, 0 per cent, 0 per cent, 1 per cent and 2 per cent (annual salary increases) with them is idiotic,” Chudyk said.

It’s not lost on Coun. Tim Cartmell what a potential strike by workers in CSU 52 would mean: the disruption of critically important services.

“It’s members of that union that answer the 911 calls. We can’t not have 911,” Cartmell, who represents Ward pihêsiwin in the city’s southwest, told CTV News Edmonton on Wednesday.

“Members of that union do development and building permit approvals, so do our approvals come to a halt? What effect does that have on our homebuilding industry and our construction industry as a whole?”

He calls considering the interests of both the city and its workers “a balancing act between two pretty tough considerations” as he, as a city councillor, has “a duty to protect the interests” of both.

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Dave Mitchell and Jeremy Thompson 

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