City workers are poised to strike Thursday. How will it impact Edmontonians?

The City of Edmonton was served an official notice Monday, setting the stage for a civic union strike that could impact a number of city services.  (Natasha Riebe/CBC - image credit)
The City of Edmonton was served an official notice Monday, setting the stage for a civic union strike that could impact a number of city services. (Natasha Riebe/CBC - image credit)

A strike that could see thousands of city workers walk off the job Thursday will have sweeping effects on on the daily business of city hall and municipal services offered to Edmontonians.

More than 5,000 of the city's front-line, administrative and clerical workers — along with around 680 staff from Edmonton's public libraries — are preparing to strike at 11 a.m. Thursday.

From dispatchers and front desk clerks to planners and accountants, the people preparing to picket serve in a staggering variety of jobs under the city's purview — and their absence will be felt by Edmontonians.

City officials have promised to keep most critical departments running but Edmonton's labour dispute with Civic Service Union (CSU) 52 members has already begun to cause disruptions.

The full impact to services is not yet known but the strike is expected to impact operations at Edmonton's recreation facilities, city attractions, the 311 complaints service — just to name a few.

Recreation centres

Tuesday evening, the city announced several service disruptions at recreation centres and city attractions, beginning on Thursday.

"All City of Edmonton attractions will be closed to the general public with the exception of pre-arranged bookings and rentals," the city news release said.

Pre-booked spaces including arenas, pools, gyms, and classes such as registered Learn to Swim and Aquatic and Safety Certification programs, will continue.

All other services will be unavailable, including front desk customer service, refunds and cancellations and "any spontaneous or drop-in programming, including arts programs, fitness centres."

All drop-in and registered programs at parks, attractions, arts, and heritage facilities are cancelled during the disruption, the city said.

These include school field trips at the Edmonton Valley Zoo, Muttart Conservatory, John Janzen Nature Centre, John Walter Museum and City Arts Centre.

Libraries to close 

On Monday, Edmonton Public Library announced that all 21 branches will close when the strike begins.

All programs, classes, events and services will be cancelled over the next week, with more cancellations possible as the situation evolves, library management said in a statement.

Digital library services will remain available online but people who have books or other items on loan are asked to keep them at home until the libraries reopen.  All due dates are extended and no late fees will be charged.

"EPL is a vital hub for learning, resources and social connection for our customers. The temporary closure of our branches will be a sad day for our employees and Edmontonians," Pilar Martinez, CEO of the Edmonton Public Library, said in a statement.

"We are eager to reach a fair resolution so we can reopen our doors to many Edmontonians who rely on EPL."

Police work 

The labour dispute will also be felt by the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) as some employees of the service are involved in the job action.

Clerical staff who process police reports, technicians who help run criminal background checks and identify accused persons and other key EPS personnel will be off the job.

Criminal intelligence and firearms and ballistics analysts are also poised to strike.

In a statement Monday, Edmonton police announced that Police Information Check Section (PICS) has temporarily suspended public-facing services.

The PICS service will not be accepting new applications for police information checks, local police records checks, civil fingerprinting, or alarm permits.

Applications submitted prior to March 11 will be processed accordingly. The PICS building will be closed to the public until further notice, and staff will not be answering public emails or phone calls, police said.

Cutting public services will allow the department to prioritize maintaining requests on active criminal investigations, police said.

In a news release Tuesday, EPS said emergency services and response will function normally. However, front counters for all police locations except downtown will be closed.

Core services to continue 

The city's most critical departments will keep running, even if workers walk on Thursday.

City buses and trains will continue running. Staff with the city's Dedicated Accessible Transit Service (DATS) — a door-to-door service for those who cannot use regular transit — will not go on strike.

Snow clearing and waste collection services will continue and construction on capital projects is expected to continue without disruption.

Edmonton Fire and Rescue Services and the city's 911 dispatch centres are expected to remain operational.

In a statement Tuesday, police said the highest priority in the event of a strike will be given to ensuring emergency communications are maintained.

Part of the ongoing contingency planning includes recertifying officers who have previous experience as 911 dispatchers so they can step in to answer emergency calls, police said.

"These officers are currently distributed across the organization," spokesperson Lauren Wozny said in an email. "When considering reassignments, priority is given to those officers who are not in frontline positions."

What's next?

City officials have maintained that it is doing all it can to limit the disruptions that may be caused by the labour stoppage.

In a statement Monday, city manager Andre Corbould said the city continues to assess the full impact of the planned strike but contingency plans are in place and an Emergency Operations Centre is being activated to manage the response.

Both the union and city administration have indicated they want a swift resolution to the labour dispute but have struggled to find common ground on wages.

On Monday, Mayor Amarjeet Sohi urged all parties to come back to the bargaining table and minimize the impact to Edmontonians.

In a statement, Coun. Tim Cartmell said the dispute will be costly and inconvenient.

"CSU 52 members work in most city departments, from building permits and inspections to 911 operations to libraries. Every additional day we go without an agreement will increase cost to the city, and not just financially.

"A strike will affect every Edmontonian."