Wyatt fears Winnipeg may provoke CUPE 500 strike to save money

Transcona councillor says he can't get straight answers about potential 'savings' from a strike, and fears city could try to lock out workers or refuse to bargain.
Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt said he fears senior city officials may want CUPE 500 workers to go on strike so the city can enjoy a payroll holiday. (CBC)

The City of Winnipeg may provoke a strike with its largest union this summer in order to save money, a city councillor says.

Russ Wyatt (Transcona) said Monday he has asked Winnipeg chief financial officer Mike Ruta how much money the city would save in terms of salaries if the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 500 were to go on strike at the height of the summer, when the city employs many seasonal workers.

Wyatt said he has not received a definitive response to this question or a request for an assurance the city will not lock out CUPE 500 workers, who gave their leaders a strike mandate last week.

As a result, the councillor said, it is possible senior city officials may be attempting to shave dollars off the the budget by provoking a work stoppage involving more than 5,000 employees.

"What are the savings on a daily basis by not having to pay those individuals? That is a number that should be determined fairly easily," Wyatt said. "If a strike occurs, I'm sure that number will not be insignificant."

Wyatt said the idea officials might provoke a strike or lockout simply to save money — even with all the disruptions that would be caused by Winnipeg's first general-workers' strike since 1919 —  is not a conspiracy theory.

"I think it's a reasonable question that needs to be posed," the councillor said, noting the city is facing a tough budget in 2018 and flat funding from the province.

"All of a sudden, the reality is a strike could be interpreted as a godsend to those trying to balance the budget. That's something that should be looked at. That's why I'm always skeptical when the CFO is unable to give me [a] very simple number."

Last week, Mayor Brian Bowman dismissed the idea WInnipeg would benefit from a strike. He said he remains hopeful the city and CUPE 500 can hammer out a collective bargaining agreement.

However, the city is preparing for the possibility of a CUPE strike. At a closed-door meeting on Wednesday morning, council will receive a briefing about service disruptions in the event of a strike.

A public update will be issued immediately afterward by the executive policy committee.