The city and CUPE Local 556 recently came up with a new four-year agreement. File photo

The city and CUPE Local 556 recently came up with a new four-year agreement. File photo

Not time for union increase, according to Courtenay councillor

Manno Theos said businesses and citizens have been struggling during pandemic

While Courtenay and CUPE staff have come up with a new collective agreement, there are concerns in city hall the time is wrong for a wage hike.

The City of Courtenay announced on July 22 that it and CUPE Local 556 ratified a new four-year deal that will see a $0.68 wage increase for unionized staff effective January. This will be followed by two per cent hikes in the subsequent three years through 2024.

“The bargaining process was respectful and that was certainly appreciated by our CUPE 556 Courtenay Unit Negotiating Committee,” CUPE representative Terri Cox said in the release. “The union looks forward to maintaining this respectful relationship over the next four years while we make progress together on workplace improvements which will assist us in serving the public.”

At the July 26 council meeting, a rise and report motion stated council, from its in camera meeting the week before, was ratifying the deal.

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Coun. Manno Theos expressed some concern at the timing though, saying that many businesses and citizens had been struggling, especially during the pandemic the last couple of years.

“I thought this was the opportunity where the union would work in good faith … to actually recognize the challenges that all the people have faced in the community and the business community desperately needing some assistance.”

He elaborated on what he has seen as several years of increases that have compounded over time from previous contracts, while businesses and citizens now try to recover from the economic challenges through the pandemic. He had hoped for a break in the expected increases to wages. At the same time, many people, including seniors, he said, are not experiencing similar increases to their incomes every year but face increases to property taxes.

“These same people that are struggling to pay their property taxes, which staff increases every year are a huge portion of … those people that are at the lowest end of the spectrum, they can’t afford to pay their mortgages anymore or their property taxes,” said Theos, who added this also affects renters as landlords pass on increases. “The landlords have to adjust their rents…. It’s all a domino effect.”

He added that council chose not to take a pay increase in recent years, though Mayor Bob Wells responded this decision was made in advance of COVID.

“That’s just how we did it for this term,” he said. “The two are mutually exclusive.”

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Others on council reaffirmed their support for the new agreement. Coun. David Frisch thanked CUPE and staff for finding middle ground in negotiations for a deal beneficial to taxpayers and staff. As well, Coun. Wendy Morin said that while city staff might have wages higher than some people in the community, they too had “taken a hit” during COVID, facing added challenges such as finding childcare while kids were out of school and also working to help locally with efforts such as delivering food to kids.

“They’ve also been on the front line of this pandemic,” she said, adding, “The businesses that were supported are being supported by people who make a living wage.”

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