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Canadian Federation of Independent Business wants province to help Prince George in union dispute

Mike Klassen is the director of of provincial affairs for British Columbia with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business wants the province to step in to help municipalities struggling to reign in workers' wages.

Mike Klassen is with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. He says public sector wage increases across B.C. have gone beyond the rate of inflation, and wants the province to set some "ground rules" for contract negotiations. "I think there needs some ideas put on the table to try and reign in the spending, and give the tools to mayors and councils so they have the option of saying, 'no this is all we can spend,'" he says of his proposal. 

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Wages one of the issues in Prince George contract dispute

In Prince George, wage increases are a part of a contract dispute between the city and its unionized workers. CUPE Union members voted overwhelmingly to reject the latest offer from the city of Prince George, when the city proposed no wage increases for the first two years of the contract, then a two percent increase in years three and four. The union is now in a position to strike. 

Gary Campbell is president of CUPE 399 representing outside workers for the city of Prince George. He argues the city isn't suffering from a lack of money, but of priorities. "They need to change their thoughts on where they're spending the money. They're doing trips to China," he says. "Before they do something like that, they should be looking after what's happening here, now." 

Janet Bigelow represents inside workers for the city, and she says the city also needs to shoulder blame for the dispute. "In the past month the city has been more interested in pursuing a public relations campaign that devalues civic workers than bargaining,"she said in a release. "They've surveyed residents about negotiations, put out damaging press releases and plan to hire new communications staff - all tactics waging war on their own employees. This isn't how bargaining is supposed to happen." 

Klassen says it is disputes like this that require the province to step in. "What we need I think are some new ground rules that really reflect upon the state of the economy, the local government's ability to pay, and recognize the fact that taxes cannot continue to go up on an ongoing basis." 

The city of Prince George and the unions will meet this week to hammer out essential services, should there be a strike. Both sides have said they would like to return to negotiations.

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