City unions are using grievances to show wasted taxpayer money in Edmonton
(Editors note: This article first ran January 5, 2021 prior to Scott declaring his candidacy)
Now that city council has ratified the 2021 budget with a zero percent tax increase, I’m predicting that you should watch for labour negotiations to heat up in the new year.
Dozens of grievances I’m told have been filed by the unions over the “Reimagine” report compiled by city management in July that aims to reduce spending by as much as $172 million. There are roughly 30 files involving the city’s outside workers with CUPE, while the representative for the Coalition of Edmonton Civic Unions, Liam Peuramaki said in an email CSU 52, the inside workers, “would be carrying the majority of them.”
The contention by the city unions is taxpayers are in some cases paying double for work that is contracted out, because the private sector providers don’t have the same expectations placed on them that city employees do.
Program service review is too old according to the unions
The gist of many of the grievances are that it has taken too long between when the city found ways to save costs, and when they’re planning on acting upon those recommendations.
John Mervyn, with the union that represents the city’s outside workers, CUPE local 30, said the service review goes back two summers ago. Anything the city wants to implement now has been dormant for a couple of a years and the union wants to revisit those discussions. “They’re dead,” he said about the recommendations that were made. “It’s taken two-and-a-half years to act on it.”
“This is a negotiation item,” he said. “We’re in a freeze period.”
An example he gave has to do with litter pick up. There are two streams of service on that. His members are responsible for emptying the metal mesh garbage cans you’d see along Jasper Avenue. The union contends staff will not only take care of that, but clean up the immediate area around them.
Yet a private provider, Bee-Clean, has the contract for the cans you’ll find at bus stops. He claimed the language in the contract means Bee-Clean doesn’t pick up litter from the ground so city crews have to be dispatched to finish the job.
No one from the city’s Employee Services unit, which handles labour negotiations, was able to respond for comment.
The problem is the rules aren’t consistent or clear enough
Mervyn said “there are good contractors out there.” But the problem is city management doesn’t always do a good job setting guidelines and expectations in the contract language.
He said with commercial waste management pickup, where bins are emptied at apartments and businesses, there are two sets of standards for city staff and contractors. A second city employee is needed, he said, to watch the bin being lifted and dumped into the truck.
Yet that second set of eyes is not needed for private contractors according to the city guidelines. “City employees watch for clearance from overhead power lines, or to make sure no one is using the bin to escape the cold”
I think senior management should set the policy and expectations, then hold staff — both union and private contractor — to account. In the long run it should lead to city services being done right the first time.