UPDATE: Burnaby, CUPE ratify four-year contract

The City of Burnaby and its unionized civic workers have reached a new four-year collective agreement in seemingly record time.

And they saved money doing it themselves this time around.

The deal with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 23 follows the settlement reached by New Westminster city workers back in August and provides a total of 6.75 per cent in wage increases—1.25 per cent in the first year, 1.75 per cent in the second and third years, and two per cent in the fourth.

The agreement spans the period of Jan. 1, 2012 to Jan. 31, 2015.

CUPE 23 held its ratification vote Dec. 12 and members approved the contract with 85 per cent in favour.

CUPE 23 president Rick Kotar said the first municipality to settle its contracts typically sets the model for others to follow.

"In the Lower Mainland the wage and term is always the same. Once somebody strikes it, that's what it is."

Compared to the last time around, this bargaining process was swift.

"We basically went to the table in late October, rolled up our sleeves and held meetings on a regular basis over the next month and were able to reach a tentative agreement on Dec. 5," said Kotar.

He said the quick process was due mainly to the fact this was the first time in decades that Burnaby negotiated directly with CUPE instead of going through Metro Vancouver's (formerly known as the Greater Vancouver Regional District, or GVRD) Labour Relations Bureau.

For years, the bureau has conducted bargaining on behalf of most of the region's municipalities to provide consistency from one city to the next.

But Burnaby and other cities opted out after the process slowed to a crawl in 2007 due to the bureau's insistence on a term that would end just after the 2010 Winter Olympics, to prevent a strike during the event. That stalemate led to a lengthy strike in the City of Vancouver.

None of that was an issue for Burnaby this time around.

"We had more meetings in one month than we had in seven months with the GVRD last time," Kotar said.

"We're glad that both parties had a will to get this done without any unnecessary road blocks and this is what happens when you can have a little bit of sincerity at the table rather than the posturing we had to deal with when we were dealing with the GVRD."

Burnaby city manager Bob Moncur said the city didn't feel as strongly about the GVRD process as the union did since it found the expertise the regional team brought to the table could be useful.

Then again, that expertise came at a cost, with Moncur estimating the city had to pay close to $100,000 a year to the GVRD Labour Relations Bureau whether it was a bargaining year or not.

"I think that was certainly part of the thinking in withdrawing from the service," he said, adding the lengthier GVRD process was due to having to share negotiators with other participating cities.

The relatively quick settlement this time "reinforced that was a good decision and that will be the way of the future, I'm pretty sure."

The deal is significantly less than in the previous agreement, which expired Dec. 31, 2011, that provided a total 17.5 per cent in wage increases over five years.

Moncur said the wage settlement was within the ballpark of what the city was seeking.

"It was what we think is affordable and what the union felt was sufficient gain to be worthwhile entering into a contract about," he said.

"The union took into consideration the economic times and I think the membership were quite capable of recognizing that that is a factor in this round," Kotar said. "Nobody was greedy and I think both parties understood each other's positions."

Kotar said the city and the union are not releasing any other details of the agreement so as not to affect the many other locals in the region that are still bargaining.

Moncur said a memorandum of understanding was reached on about 50 items—"a few on their side and a few on our side"—that the two sides will seek to address in areas such as adjusting benefits, working rules and promotion language.

"At the end of the day it's just something as far as the issues that were on the table with us, we saw management's point, they saw our point and we were able to reach a conclusion and put it in front of the membership and the membership approved it and that's it," Kotar said.

CUPE 23 represents 2,500 municipal employees including those working in public works, library services, arena and aquatics, support services for RCMP and the fire department, as well as administrative services such as accounting and payroll.



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