By Trevor Busch
Unionized town employees will be receiving a six per cent wage increase over three years after town council’s ratification of a new contract with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 2038.
Approved unanimously following closed session discussion on Sept. 24, the new contract is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2018 and extends to Dec. 31, 2020 while providing for an annual increase of two per cent over three years.
“All things considered, things went relatively smoothly, and came to an amicable conclusion,” said Mayor Andrew Prokop. “I think that’s very positive, sometimes these negotiations take like a year or so. It’s in line with the inflation rate, and it’s also in line with other municipalities that are doing the same or similar negotiating. So I think all things considered it’s reasonable, and enough that everyone’s happy with it.”
Local CUPE 2038 president Irene Irmler was more than satisfied with the new contract, which shifts increased financial responsibility for benefits to the municipality, as well as allowing for new shift premiums.
“It’s not just two, two and two (per cent), we gained 10 per cent in benefits. So instead of an 80-20 split, it’s a 90-10 split. And we gained shift premiums, which we’ve never had. The town came to play, and the union came to play, and I believe it was a really good negotiation. It’s above adequate. It’s a good, strong contract — this is my third contract — and it was a good, strong one.”
CAO Cory Armfelt, who was involved in the negotiations at the ground level, pointed out that the contract numbers had already been factored into the upcoming fiscal year for the municipality and should not represent any undue hardship.
“So we have accepted a budget for 2019, so where we’ve settled with wages for 2019, we had already accommodated that into the 2019 budget. So moving forward in 2019, we will not be asking council for a significant change to the 2019 budget that was already accepted due to a two per cent increase by CUPE. We saw that as a likelihood of where we were going to settle, and had proposed that when we did the 2018-2019 budgets. So we’ve already worked that in, so there will be virtually no change to that 2019 budget. The 2020 and 2021 budgets, we’ll be working on right now. That’s going to go to council for consideration this fall, prior to January.”
Both sides reported that contract negotiations were amicable and did not lead to any breakdown in civility between the two parties.
“They went really well. We ended up with a really good rep from Calgary, and some of our wording is actually going to go into the City of Calgary’s negotiation contract — that’s what we hope for, anyway,” said Irmler. “To me, that’s huge when a rural town does this, and Calgary’s going to try to follow suit. It’s a great contract, and hopefully we’ll get people, and the town will grow some more.”
“I think that negotiations went really well actually,” said Armfelt. “CUPE brought in a senior negotiator type from Calgary, and was really interested in getting down to business and not just being petty. Once we got into negotiations they were fairly swift. Both parties knew basically where we were going to end up, so we just talked back and forth to meet at that point. It was very amicable, and not tense.”
The new contract is comparable to increases in the cost of living, according to Armfelt, who signaled a need to attract and retain employees from a competitive position vis-a-vis other Alberta municipalities.
“The last increases have been in 2015, one per cent, 2016, one per cent, and 2017, three per cent. That adds up to five per cent, and now, for the next three years adding up to six per cent. But again, we’re totally — well in fact a little under — what the Consumer Price Index (CPI) has been. The Consumer Price Index in Alberta in 2016 was 2.1, in 2017 it was 2.5, and in 2018 up to this date has been 2.44. So we are at par, in fact a little under par, of the Consumer Price Index. We’ve lost employees recently due to them wanting to go and ‘chase money.’ They were offered better wages at other local businesses, they’ve left the municipality to go work at other places. I think council accepted this because they saw we had to at least try to keep up with what the cost of living is, or we would see more good employees leave.”
Various contracts the town has entered into to provide services to private entities also encouraged Armfelt to ensure that employees were satisfied with their financial compensation.
“The municipality has entered into contracts to extend services to private entities, so we are capturing revenue from various private entities that we have made arrangements to work with, to send out staff to work for essentially. When you do that, there is certainly more consideration to keeping your employees happy, because you don’t want your employees to go on strike, and you don’t want disenchanted employees if you’re going to have your employees representing the Town of Taber and doing work based on contract with external organizations. In order to keep having employees, they certainly needed to be compensated fairly, and because the town is now capturing revenue from external contracts, I think it’s fair that part of that is shared back with the people actually doing the work to allow us to have these contracts to collect some additional revenue.”
Overall, Armfelt is confident the new contract strikes a fair balance between fiscal responsibility to taxpayers and meeting the goals of unionized employees.
“I think it’s a relatively good deal for the Town of Taber. We certainly didn’t do anything that had more benefit than any other CUPE-represented municipality across Canada. We have the stats, we know where everybody else has settled, and that two, two and two over three years has been essentially the standard. We feel really comfortable that we didn’t give anything else that any other municipality has given. I’m a taxpayer, and I am certainly not upset about the fact that we settled too richly. It’s a very fair contract, and I can look the workers in the eye and be happy, and they can look at me. The conversations at the negotiating table were good and fair and reached a reasonable settlement.”