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Voluntary wage freeze put forth for Calgary union workers

As the City of Calgary deals with ongoing economic pressures, two councillors will put forth a notice of motion asking for Calgary union members to reconsider wage increases slated for 2020.

Ward 1 Coun. Ward Sutherland and Ward 6 Coun. Jeff Davison have submitted a notice of motion for the Nov. 5 Priorities and Finance committee meeting that directs administration to request all Calgary unions reconsider the 1.5 per cent wage increase and agree to a voluntary 0 per cent increase next year.

Sutherland said the wage increase is expected to cost the city $31 million next year – representing a roughly 1.8 per cent increase to Calgary’s property taxes.

City of Calgary Wage Contract Reconsideration (2020) and City Council Remuneration for 2019-2020 – PFC2019-… by Darren Krause on Scribd

He said wage increases go back to the agreements made in 2017, but not signed until this past summer.  

“It was estimated that by 2020 the economy would pick up – not significantly, but it would improve,” he said. That’s why they agreed to the modest increases at that time, Sutherland said.

“Well, 2020 is coming, and the economy, obviously, it’s not going to get better.”

Calgary budget cuts in August, more budget cuts expected

The city cut $60 million from its operating budget in August and they’re looking at further cuts when budget adjustments are made in November. On top of that, the province announced cuts to Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) funding. The province’s Bill 21 also makes changes to fine revenue available to the Calgary Police Service, leaving them short another $13 million.

Budget scenarios for 2020 are expected to be delivered to city council Nov. 12.

Sutherland recognizes the city doesn’t have the legislative authority that the province does to rollback public sector wages. It’s not a threat, he said, this is more of an open letter to the unions. Earlier this week, the province said they would be seeking wage rollbacks for provincial employees of between two and five per cent.

“I understand the union leaders need to be tough, they do have their positions, but it’s time for the members to say, ‘you know, is this the right thing? And do I want to lose my work? And can we participate and help out,’” Sutherland said.

LiveWire Calgary made calls Thursday afternoon to several Calgary union leaders for a response, but none were available for comment.

Should the unions reject the request for a voluntary reconsideration of the wage increase, Sutherland said they’d have to find that $31 million from somewhere.

“If they say no, we gotta cover the $31 million. It’s math,” Sutherland said. He said it could once again be made up in service cuts or job cuts.

In the notice of motion, it also asks that city councillors also have a voluntary wage freeze for 2019 and 2020.

The motion would have to be approved at committee for it to move ahead.