Tuesday, November 23, 2010

COUCILLORS BUTT HEADS OVER DEAL FOR TRANSIT UNION (excerpts from the article published in the Daily Gleaner, November 23/10)

City bus drivers have a new contract, but four Fredericton city councillors voted against the settlement with transit drivers, saying the city is going to have to start retrenching on salary hikes.

CUPE Local 1783, which represents 27 full-time drivers and 18 in an Operator II classification, will receive an average 2.8 per cent increase in their pay over the five-year life of their new agreement. The deal is retroactive to Jan. 1 and expires Dec. 31, 2014. That will put the salary of a full-time driver, which is at $57,426 now, up to $58,944 by 2014.
Even at the end of five years, Coun. Steven Hicks said, Fredericton transit drivers still won't be earning as much as Moncton or Saint John transit drivers.

Hicks said the city won't be negotiating again with any of its CUPE unions until 2012 when it will have to open talks with its professional technical workers.

Coun. Mike O'Brien voted against the contract, saying the city has to plan for its future. While O'Brien didn't name the union, he pointed to Fredericton firefighter settlements, which consistently end up with pay hikes around the four per cent mark because they consistently go to binding arbitration.

"Provincial arbitrators have been awarding contracts in the value of four to five per cent to one of our unions and that puts this council ... in a very difficult position," O'Brien said. Although the union has the right to bargain as it does, it sets the bar too high for negotiations with the rest of the city's unionized groups, O'Brien said.

"Eventually we get to the point where everybody is getting two and three per cent raises or greater. I just don't think we can sustain that going forward," he said.

O'Brien said he personally can't sanction settlements of that level in the future. "This is just too rich for the times," he said. "It's just too rich for me to be able to support."

"In the City of Saint John at the end of this particular contract, our bus drivers will still make 20 per cent less than what they do," said Coun. Scott McConaghy. They'll also earn less than Moncton drivers over the same time period, he said.

"So it's not like our employees are being overpaid in this particular sector within the province of New Brunswick," McConaghy said. He said the settlement for transit drivers is in line with settlements for other groups.

Deputy mayor Dan Keenan, Coun. Bruce Grandy and Coun. Stephen Kelly also voted against the contract.

Woodside said the city can't keep asking taxpayers for more property-tax revenue or there will be a tax revolt. "It could come down to a point where we have to look at the number of employees we have in each department," Woodside said. "There's a number of municipalities talking about and looking at freezing wages."

Budget times in the future are going to get tougher, Woodside said, and the only source of revenue for municipalities is through taxation. Cities have tough choices - either cut services or raise taxes, he said.

"The taxpayers have to be taken into consideration as well .... There's going to be a revolt. People are fed up with assessments and tax increases," the mayor said.

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