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Union bargaining set to start soon

By Janis Warren and Jeff Nagel The Tri-City News Presidents of civic union locals in the Tri-Cities say they hope to get to the bargaining table this fall to renew their contracts.

By Janis Warren and Jeff Nagel

The Tri-City News

Presidents of civic union locals in the Tri-Cities say they hope to get to the bargaining table this fall to renew their contracts.

CUPE locals representing unionized city employees have been without collective agreements since Dec. 31, 2011 while the firefighters' contracts expired on Dec. 31, 2009.

Brian Savage, president of CUPE Local 498 (which represents Port Coquitlam city staff), and Dale Truscott, president of IAFF Local 1941 (which represents PoCo firefighters), said they anticipate meeting with city managers later this month to discuss proposed wage hikes and contract language.

The two PoCo locals negotiate directly with the city and not through Metro Vancouver's labour relations department.

In Coquitlam, deputy city manager John Dumont said he expects CUPE 386, which represents civic workers, to start negotiations soon. (A call to the CUPE office was not returned by The Tri-City News' deadline Thursday).

The bargaining movement comes after New Westminster last month signed a collective agreement with its civic workers that will see pay hikes of 6.75% over four years. It is the first contract to be inked with municipal workers in Metro Vancouver and will likely set the bar for other bargaining committees.

Jordan Bateman of the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation said the salary jump will hit the bottom line for many municipalities and said he had pressed for a civic equivalent of the province's net-zero mandate that froze labour costs for two years.

"It's another example of a city hall caving to CUPE and signing a deal that's good for those [union] members and not so good for taxpayers," he said.

Bateman worries the Royal City agreement is the start of a replay of 2007, when Richmond broke ranks with other cities and gave its unionized workers an extra 17.5% over five years to secure labour peace through the 2010 Olympics. That became the pattern for the rest of the region as other cities signed with their CUPE locals.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which lobbies for civic cost control, also expressed concern that other cities may fall in line. CFIP spokesperson Shachi Kurl said it's too early to say whether the New West deal sets a precedent for other unionized wage increases and noted each city varies in its ability to pay and other unique circumstances.

But she said it could be a factor. "Even if you have a restraint-minded council or finance director who may want to rein [labour costs] in, that becomes very difficult when all your neighbours are going in a different direction," Kurl said.

The New Westminster deal - ratified by the union with 97% support by members - is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2012 and includes increases of 1.25% this year, 1.75% in each of the next two years and 2% in 2015.

CUPE Local 387 business agent George Habib called it a fair contract and said municipal bargaining can't reasonably be compared to the province's net-zero freeze on union pay. He said the union has a good relationship with New Westminster and saw no point in waiting for one of the bigger cities in the region to strike the first deal.

The issue of unionized workers' pay was raised last fall at Tri-City municipal all-candidates' meetings, with many Coquitlam council incumbents and challengers vowing to take a "hard line" against rising wages at city hall.

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- with files from Grant Granger, Burnaby NewsLeader