News / Winnipeg

Winnipeg juggling union grievances while preparing for labour disruption

CAO Michael Jack said the city’s been working on “service continuity planning for a number of months" incase CUPE members decide to strike.

The city's labour relations team has been actively trying to nail down new collective agreements, but behind the scenes, senior staff and human resources officers are engaged in

Metro File

The city's labour relations team has been actively trying to nail down new collective agreements, but behind the scenes, senior staff and human resources officers are engaged in "service continuity planning," incase there is a strike.

The City of Winnipeg has its hands full with various unions, including a potential labour disruption weeks before the Canada Summer Games.

Not only did chief corporate services officer Michael Jack need to put out a metaphorical fire Thursday over a lone fire employee being seemingly co-opted, but the union representing other civic employees the city plans on reassigning filed a grievance over the city's right to do so.

That morning, United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg (UFFW) president Alex Forrest made a Facebook post about a “very serious incident” in which a unionized fire employee was allegedly contacted for reassignment to the city’s 911 dispatch centre, which is run by Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 500 (CUPE) members.

Since CUPE is poised to either accept or reject a contract offer union President Gord Delbridge considers final on June 7, potentially triggering a strike mandate, Forrest said it was incumbent upon him to step in and stop his member from being trained for any CUPE job.

“We are standing in solidarity with CUPE,” Forrest said in an interview. “Under no circumstance will UFFW members be doing any training or work usually done by CUPE members.”

Jack said the city’s been working on “service continuity planning for a number of months now,” but called the incident with the UFFW member “a red herring.”

“That individual had worked in the (communications) centre… the ask for him to come back was just regular contingency planning,” he insisted.

Regardless, Jack said the city is engaged in “strike preparedness” discussion with other civic employees, including members of the Winnipeg Association of Public Service Officers (WAPSO).

He said the plan for reacting to a possible CUPE strike has been “fluid,” previously focused on flood response, for instance, but now mostly focused on “things like safety, health, protection of people and property, (and) water treatment.”

WAPSO however has taken umbrage with the liberal redeployment of its members currently being proposed, such that Jack said “coincidentally,” the union filed a grievance over the city’s right to ask managers to replace CUPE workers.

“It was raised because this was an issue in the current CUPE situation,” Jack said.

The first arbitration hearing to deal with the grievance was Thursday, but depending on timing, Jack said it “may or may not” affect the city’s CUPE strike contingency plan.

He also conceded that even with the city’s plan intact and WAPSO employees participating, replacing the work done by the roughly 4,600 CUPE members who could strike this summer “would be insurmountable… If what we were trying to do is fill every role.”

“That’s why we had to focus on what the essential services are.”

So what services are on the chopping block if there is a strike?

“Unfortunately, things like recreation centres or libraries are things we won’t be able to continue operating,” Jack said.

Exceptions would be made to those service cuts for Winnipeg to host the Canada Summer Games, but Jack said the fluid plan is changing day-to-day and he can’t speak to how the Canada Games will go off without a hitch.

Delbridge doesn’t think it’s possible.

“I think the work our members do is absolutely critical to the Summer Games,” he said in an interview. “In so many areas, the work needed beforehand, flower planting, maintaining parks and athletic fields that are going to be used, the venues and so on.

“Hosting these games is a great opportunity, Winnipeg is a great city, but you know, I want the City of Winnipeg to realize that their employees are not liabilities, they are some of their greatest assets that can contribute to the games’ success.”

Delbridge said CUPE members in Winnipeg have never been on strike since their unionization in 1919, and he’s still confident they can reach an agreement “both sides can live with.”

Jack said the city remains “hopeful the members will consider the position the city put on the table to be reasonable.

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