City of Prince Albert, union at standstill over 1% offer difference for wage increases

Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne speaks at a news conference at City Hall about CUPE 882 members potentially going on strike. -- Jayda Taylor/Daily Herald

The City of Prince Albert says its responsibility to taxpayers is why it’s not budging in its salary offer to the union representing inside workers.

CUPE 882 represents employees at City Hall and recreation facilities such as the Kinsmen Water Park, the Alfred Jenkins Fieldhouse and the Art Hauser Centre. The bargaining unit consists of about 200 employees.

On Tuesday, the union said it’s on the verge of striking. This comes after the city would not continue bargaining once employees rejected its final offer.

“As a city council, we work hard to maintain the balance in between salaries and our responsibility to taxpayers,” said Mayor Greg Dionne.

“I am surprised, but the ball is in their court.”

The city offered an 11 per cent general wage increase over four years. The lowest income employees would receive an additional .5 per cent.

According to the city, this would increase salaries from the 85th percentile to the 95th percentile of other competitive markets, such as Saskatoon and Regina.

CUPE 882 countered with a 12 per cent general wage increase.

This extra one per cent increase would give members $15 more every two weeks, on average. However, the city argued, that one per cent would cost taxpayers “a significant amount.”

“Municipalities across the province have been able to reach fair agreements that recognize the crushing cost of living, and still, the City of Prince Albert refuses to keep our pay on pace with inflation,” said CUPE 882 President Tammy Vermette.

In response, Dionne said inflation is impacting everyone. The extra one per cent would take from taxpayers, he said, who are also feeling the effects of inflation.

“I respect them and I appreciate them, and it doesn’t matter to me whether you are in a garbage truck or you’re digging a ditch over here,” said Dionne.

“Every one of those jobs, to me, are important. If we didn’t have one of those jobs, the wheels would stop turning.”

Should the union go on strike, Dionne said the Kinsmen Water Park would likely have to close. However, the city has splash parks in almost every neighbourhood that wouldn’t be impacted, he said.

Other facilities, including City Hall, would have workers not included in the bargaining unit that would continue operations.

The union would have to give the city 48 hours of notice prior to going on strike. The City of Prince Albert has never had a strike before.

In its initial news release, CUPE 882 said the mayor and city council received a 20 per cent increase from 2016 to 2021, double what union members received for that period.

Dionne said he makes $88,000 a year, which is in the 69th percentile of what mayors in Saskatoon, Regina and Moose Jaw make. City councillors make $29,800, also in the 69th percentile.

“They think this strike doesn’t cost you anything, well the strike does cost you because we stop paying you,” said Dionne, adding that he’s never seen a union give its members full pay while on the picket line.

According to the union, 79 per cent of its member voted in favour of job action at a meeting on June 26.

CUPE 882 members have been without a contract since December 2021.