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All four City of Nelson labour contracts up for negotiation this year

Bill Metcalfe
By Bill Metcalfe
March 15th, 2013

The four labour unions that represent workers at the City of Nelson all have contracts up for negotiation this year. They probably won’t be looking at the kinds of increases they got last time around, given the low inflation rate and the amounts the City has earmarked for wages in its new budget.

Contracts with the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical workers (IBEW) expired in December of 2011, while agreements with the Nelson Police Association and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) expired on December 2012.

The City has been negotiating with the IBEW for about a year and City Manager Kevin Cormack reports that they are close to an agreement. Negotiations with the other three unions have yet to begin.

UPDATE: The Nelson Daily has learned the IBEW is not close to an agreement. The IBEW voted Tuesday on a contract offer by the City of Nelson, which was rejected by more than 80 percent.

What they got last time around

The current agreements were negotiated before the financial meltdown of 2008, in a high inflation environment, as follows:

CUPE: 4% in 2008 and 3% in each of 2009, 2010, and 2011.

IBEW: 3% in 2009 and 3.5% in 2010 and 2011

Police: 4.5% in 2008 and 2009; 4% in 2010, 2011, and 2012

Fire (by arbitration): 6.5% in 2008, 6.5% in 2009, and 5.75 % in 2010 and 2011

Negotiations and the city budget

The city’s recent budget process for 2013 had to anticipate upcoming wage settlements, and by budgeting for them in advance they sent a signal as to what kinds of increases they will accept.

“We are trying to negotiate agreements that would have a net of at or below inflationary levels,” says Cormack, the City’s lead negotiator.

The inflation rate in Canada was 2.9% in 2011, 1.5% in 2012, and it currently stands at less than 1%.

Across the board, wages and benefits account for about 80% of the City’s budget operating expenditures (not including capital expenditures).

Fire and police want parity with big cities

According to Cormack , the IAFF and the NPA are not in a hurry to negotiate with the city because those unions first want to establish increases with their bargaining units in Vancouver and then use that as a benchmark in negotiating with the City of Nelson.

In the past, the City has resisted offering their police and fire staff the same wages as in the large urban centres, according to Cormack. Bargaining with those unions is complicated because fire and police are deemed essential services and if a local agreement is not reached it must go to arbitration, as it did in Nelson with the IAFF last time round.

“Almost all municipalities have contract language that says they will agree to the same wages (for the IAFF) as Vancouver,” says Cormack. “We are one of the only local governments that do not have that language and that is why we went to arbitration last time around. They wanted us to agree to transition to the same wage schedule that the Lower Mainland has.

“Both unions (police and fire) have pushed the Vancouver wage proposal and council has resisted that. We will bargain locally and under the same expectations as the other unions that we bargain with. Then we can say, ‘here is what our other unions have settled at,’ and we will propose the same things to the police and fire unions.”

Police services account for about 20% of the City’s general budget expenditures, and fire services about 9%. 

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