4 Winnipeg unions say city labour relations are 'in chaos'

Four City of Winnipeg unions says labour relations in the Manitoba capital have broken down due to an excessive number of arbitrations and chaos within the labour-relations division.

Unions representing police, transit, firefighters and general workers complain of too many arbitrations

CUPE Local 500 president Gord Delbridge is one of the union leaders saying Winnipeg's labour relations department is in chaos and the city's labour relations have broken down. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Four City of Winnipeg unions says labour relations in the Manitoba capital have broken down due to an excessive number of arbitrations and the labour-relations division "is in chaos."

In a letter to Mayor Brian Bowman dated April 19, the leaders of the city unions representing transit workers, police employees, firefighters and general workers warn city costs have increased due to the deteriorating relationship with their city counterparts.

"This year, despite having no more grievances than previous years, we have had significantly more issues referred to arbitration," says the letter, signed by Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 500 president Gord Delbridge, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 president Aleem Chaudhary, United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg president Alex Forrest and Winnipeg Police Association president Maurice Sabourin.

The union leaders wrote that while their success rate in arbitration has risen, the settling of so many disputes through arbitration is costing the city and taxpayers, by extension.

"This isn't a case of our members or leaders demanding more or being less reasonable. Issues that used to be solved at the labour relations table are now being solved by arbitrators," the leaders wrote.

Four City of Winnipeg unions says labour relations in Manitoba have broken down due to an excessive number of arbitrations and the labour-relations division "is in chaos." 1:39

"This development has had a real financial impact. Our members are diverting more resources to arbitration costs — including cancellation costs as issues settle shortly before going forward. We know that the city is also financially impacted, as it too shares the cost of the arbitration."

The union leaders also say many civil servants are leaving the labour-relations division within the city.

"The City of Winnipeg's corporate labour relations department is in chaos," the letter says.

This follows a slew of departures within other areas of the public service, including transportation planning and legal services.

The union leaders are requesting a meeting with Bowman.

"We want to work with you," they wrote.

The mayor said Wednesday afternoon he is not certain why some but not all city unions wrote the letter.

He called the statement about turnover within labour relations inaccurate and said he believes the city has engaged in successful labour relations, based on Winnipeg's ability to reach negotiated settlements with those unions.

CUPE 500 president Delbridge said the issue is not collective bargaining over contracts, but the arbitrations. He could not quantify the dollar value he referenced in the letter he co-authored.

Delbridge also advised Bowman to speak to his staff if Bowman is not aware of the staff churn in the labour-relations division.