CUPE contract ratified with town workers PDF Print
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Written by Greg Price   
Thursday, 24 May 2012 14:22

Never an easy decision when taxes paying wages are involved, that notion bore itself out as the Town of Taber eventually ratified a contract with its workers in CUPE Local 2038 at its most recent council meeting.
Referred to as a ‘healthy and vigorous’  discussion by Coun. Garth Bekkering, town council emerged from closed session discussing labour at its May 14 meeting, and ratified a three-year agreement with CUPE by the slimmest of margins by a 4-3 vote. Mayor Ray Bryant and councillors John Papp, Murray Rochelle and Garth Bekkering voted in favour of ratification and councillors Randy Sparks, Rick Popadynetz and Louie Tams voted against.
The agreement calls for a two per cent wage increase for 2012, a two per cent increase in 2013 and another three per cent increase in 2014.
“The bulk of the negotiations were going through the agreement from front to back and doing a lot of house cleaning and making the contract very readable by both parties,” said Mayor Ray Bryant in an interview with the Times last Thursday.
Voting eligible members of CUPE Local 2038 had 73 per cent voting in favour of ratifying the contract prior to council’s decision on Monday, according to union representative Aneen Albus. Both sides met for the first time on Dec. 5. Up until it was eventually ratified there were eight full days of negotiations.
“I was not part of negotiations, but it seemed to me that both parties were there to reach a settlement and I think the discussions were very up front and I don’t think there was a lot of confrontation throughout the negotiations,” said Bryant. “You put it all together, and I think negotiations went very well.”
Given the tight 4-3 vote of council ratifying the contract and a noticeable quarter of the CUPE vote against ratifying the contract, it can be theorized that both sides had to compromise in a contract that affects approximately 80 town employees, factoring in casual employees as well, according to human resources.
“Obviously, both sides maybe thought we gave up too much, but on the other hand there is no use talking about the ifs, because both sides ratified and we have a three-year contract and I am very pleased about that.”
It was a decision not taken lightly by Coun. Randy Sparks to vote against the motion for ratifying the contract. He added people can get very passionate when you talk about wages as actions can be misconstrued as being personal attacks.
“I’m not against employee wages. Just because I voted not to ratify the contract does not mean I think town employees are not doing their job. I think the Town of Taber has a very good group of employees who are good people where most are very conscientious and do their job well,” said Sparks on Thursday. “But, the town has some very big issues coming up and wages is just part of the big picture, people need to understand it’s not cheap to run the Town of Taber. You need to make the Town of Taber tax base favourable for people and you do that by controlling your expenses.  When the wages we are paying out to town employees exceeds what is being taken in through taxes, there is a problem.”
Sparks commended the job administration did in helping with the difficult job of negotiating the contract in which his vote was very hard for himself, but eventually for him a stand had to be made.
“My issue is wages are very high and they are getting out of control. Our costs are escalating and there has to be some control and some restraint in looking at the big picture for the greater good of everybody,” said Sparks.
Coun. Bekkering chimed in that municipal governments always want to pay less to control their costs in running a town, but now council can get onto other business.
“For me it came down to the stability of the workforce and a fair increase in wages,” said Bekkering. “We always want to pay less, but you have to be fair. I felt it was fair and now we have three years of labour peace.”
Coun. Rick Popadynetz added wages prior to the ratified agreement were already more than fair when you look at comparisons to other employers in the town.
“We got a print out of all the wages and basically they are some of the highest wages around in the community which is my feeling. The town pays some of the best wages in all of Taber, it’s one of the best places to work,” said Popadynetz. “The wages are out of control. We pay more in wages than we have coming in for taxes. Provincial grants helps balance that. Wage increases in a recession is not very business savvy and running a town is a business. On a comparison basis, we have some of the highest paid employees already”
As a new councillor, it was Popadynetz’s first contract he voted on  and will use it as a reference for when the next negotiation comes up, pouring over the contract line by line in showing vigilance in answering to taxpayers. The fact the vote to ratify was so close showed to him the vigilance all council used in making the difficult decision.
“I think a split vote like that in increasing the wages was a good thing. It shows there are no easy answers.”

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