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Workers to picket city hall over management pay

Unions representing around a thousand city workers are objecting to significant raises proposed for senior staff.
Thunder Bay City Hall
CUPE and ATU locals representing city employees are planning to gather Monday at city hall over planned increases for senior staff. (Ian Kaufman, TBnewswatch)

THUNDER BAY – A proposed pay band adjustment that would see the City of Thunder Bay’s senior staff receive increases of between 4 and 12 per cent in 2022 is not sitting well with rank and file workers.

Unions representing around a thousand city workers will picket city hall Monday in advance of a city council vote on whether to approve those increases.

“We just want to see a stop to this,” said Fred Caputo, president of ATU Local 966 representing transit workers. “We hope they reverse their decision and vote no to the pay band increase.”

CUPE Local 87 president Deryk Fournier said his union wants to see increases for management more in line with those for unionized city workers.

“Immediately off the hop, it doesn’t seem fair,” he said. “We’ve been getting somewhere around the 1.5 per cent mark.”

The concerns come as both unions prepare to head into bargaining with the city in 2023. Both said they believe the issue has implications for their own members’ compensation.

City leaders have said a pay band adjustment is necessary on top of a general increase of 4 per cent this year in order to keep wages for the 319 staff in the management and non-union group competitive with other Ontario municipalities.

The general increase for that group will cost the city over $1.1 million this year. The city has refused to disclose how much more the pay band adjustment will cost.

Couns. Mark Bentz and Peng You cast the only votes against approving the adjustment at a meeting on June 6.

However, at least one other councillor said they’d changed their mind and would vote against ratifying the decision on Monday.

City manager Norm Gale declined an interview request for this story.

In an emailed statement, Gale said “misinformation in the community has caused some concern and speculation” about the pay band adjustment.

Still, administration refused to answer questions about the adjustment, details of which have only been discussed behind closed doors.

“Details of the pay band adjustment were discussed in closed session, and remain confidential until city council’s vote on [the] decision is finalized - this is normal practice for human resources matters,” Gale said.

Gale said the adjustment would “allow for annual movement of 1 to 4 per cent through the salary bands,” but a “small percentage” of employees whose compensation falls below the bottom of the new bands would be adjusted up further.

Caputo questioned the city’s reluctance to release the information ahead of Monday’s vote.

“What’s the big secret? Let us know what this is all about. Why do we have to wait until ratification to find out the particulars on this pay band increase?”

The city has stated compensation for its management and non-union group falls about 9 per cent short of the average offered for similar roles by a list of comparable Ontario municipalities.

The list is believed to include several municipalities in Southern Ontario, a fact Caputo said is at odds with the city’s position on compensation during collective bargaining last year.

“During contract talks, when ATU compared wages to transit workers in Southern Ontario, the city negotiator said ‘you can’t compare Thunder Bay to Southern Ontario wages’,” he said.

He also accused the city of misrepresenting the financial impact of COVID-19 during negotiations, before posting a surplus of over $10 million for 2021.

“The city continually told us over the 18 months that they were bleeding money through the pandemic, transit was losing revenue, and there was just no money for our members,” he said.

“Less than two months later, the city revealed it had a surplus of $10.9 million. Shortly after that, city council passed a 4 per cent increase for management and non‐union city staff – and now proposes another increase.”

“I feel they were deceiving us, they lied to us. Our members feel disrespected.”

It’s uncertain if public blowback could lead council to reject its previous vote for the increase on Monday, but at least one councillor said he’d had a change of heart.

Coun. Trevor Giertuga said he’s prepared to revisit the decision, saying he’d prefer to see a phased-in approach – something Coun. Mark Bentz, who first raised concerns over the increase, has pushed for.

Coun. Kristen Oliver, on the other hand, said she’s heard concerns from workers and the public, but still believes the adjustment is appropriate.

“I’m certainly not surprised that [workers] are expressing frustration,” the Westfort Ward councillor said. “I know that the unions, not just the transit union, but all unions, are questioning this decision.”

She agreed with Gale, however, that the public may have an inflated idea of the extent of the adjustment. Once more information is presented to the public, she believes many constituents will understand the decision.

Specifically, she indicated only a relatively small minority in the employee group will see hikes approaching the 12 per cent mark.

“It is a lot of misinformation, and I think that’s what’s causing even more concern in the community,” she said. “It appears that these non-union workers and managers are all about to get a 12 per cent wage increase, and that’s certainly not the case.”

The pay band in question hasn’t been adjusted since 2007, she added, and the management and non-union group has seen fewer hikes in that time than unionized employees.

“It hasn’t been addressed since 2007 – that pay band’s been in place for the last 15 years.”

“From my perspective, there have been some wage freezes through the pandemic, and when you do wage freezes, it does come back at some point to haunt you, in a way.”

Ian Kaufman

About the Author: Ian Kaufman

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