By Scott Schmidt
Alberta Newspaper Group
Union employees with the County of Forty Mile recently voted down a proposed three-year agreement, suspending what was thought to be a done deal.
Officials with the county were expecting to see the deal accepted, so the news came as a surprise, and since it was kyboshed no new talks have transpired, though a tentative meeting has been scheduled for July 11.
“We wrote up an offering memorandum, which the union reps … all signed, and the negotiating committee for the council all signed it,” said Reeve Steve Wikkerink. “It went through council meeting, was ratified at the council meeting, and the next night it went to the voting members of the union and was defeated.
“So the membership turned down the offer.”
Union members include all county employees, excluding management, affecting workers from public works to the Ag department, and from mechanics to office and seasonal staff.
The terms of the three-year offer are to this point undisclosed, but Wikkerink did admit that wages were atop the list of contentious issues.
“(The union’s rep) has indicated to us the three main concerns she feels are at issue,” he said. “We’re asking for another three-year contract, just like we’ve always been getting. They don’t want a three-year contract.
“They didn’t like the offer that was negotiated, and there is an issue inside our Ag department where they don’t want to see a change.”
Wikkerink says the county is trying to negotiate a fair deal, offering a wage increase for each of the three years and ensuring all staff that no jobs would be lost with the new contract. Unfortunately, he says, at this time the union’s ask on wages is not in the realm of possibility.
The reeve says that even with Capital Power’s massive wind project soon to be online, the county has suffered job losses in the private sector in exoduses like the Spitz operations. While sunnier times are expected ahead, the reality is losses are still being felt and the optics of any contract signed will matter a great deal to local ratepayers.
‘We need that first year of the windmills to hopefully just play catch-up,” Wikkerink said. “The negotiating committee seemed to understand that, but for some reason, like I said, it got voted down.
“Hopefully we can come to common ground soon.”