COUNTY OF WELLINGTON – Non-union employees are not getting a cost of living adjustment wage increase for 2021 and county councillors’ wages will be frozen at 2020 rates.
At Thursday morning’s county council meeting, council passed this resolution by a 9-6 vote after a back-and-forth discussion and two proposals for increases were denied.
Sarah Farrelly, director of human resources for the county, clarified by email after the meeting that this only applies to cost of living increase and employees will still progress through the pay grade system based on years of service and satisfactory performance.
She also explained that full-time social service workers are the only county division who are part of a union (CUPE local 973).
The original discussion started with a finance committee resolution for a 1.9 per cent increase for non-union employees.
A majority of council were opposed to this with many saying it sets the wrong tone during a time when some residents are facing extreme financial hardship. There was also talk of their goal to keep the tax increase as low as possible.
Councillor Doug Breen pointed out that the change to Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is used to calculate inflation, was near zero and the proposed increase didn’t reflect this.
Minto mayor George Bridge, Mapleton Mayor Gregg Davidson and warden Kelly Linton were supportive of this increase, which was voted down 12-3.
Bridge noted that union employees were successful in negotiating for a similar increase and feared they may start to lose staff members over this.
“What I’m concerned about later on, we got one set of people who got the adjustment and now we have another set who don’t get the adjustment,” Bridge said. “As far as I’m concerned that puts us in jeopardy going forward.”
Linton said staff deserve the increase because they stepped up during the pandemic to carry on essential services during many stressful months.
“I think we have to make sure we do whatever we can as a council to keep our tax rate increase as low as possible but I do think we need to look after our staff,” Linton said. “They’ve had a difficult few months.”
Erin Mayor Allan Alls put forward a subsequent motion for no cost of living increase for non-union staff and a freeze on councillors’ wages.
Alls clarified that he doesn’t have anything against staff but needs to think about the constituents most impacted by the pandemic.
“As councillors, we have to represent our constituents … and what they’re going through this stage in their lives is very difficult,” Alls said. “I can not in all consciousness accept an increase myself and in doing so I ask the staff the same.”
The consensus was councillors wages should be frozen but some were hesitant in supporting no increase at all.
“I’m not supportive of zero, I like where the direction this is going,” Seeley said, who was opposed to the original increase. “I understand the importance of staff and they’ve incurred some additional costs.”
Davidson suggested an amendment, compromising with a one per cent increase while still freezing councillors’ wages. This was also put to a vote. This swayed a few more councillors in favour of an increase but not enough. The amendment failed 10-5 as a majority were committed to no increase.
Councillor Steve O’Neill stressed that they need to work to keep the tax rate the same for residents going into 2021
“If we’re not going to work to get the budget down and our residents paying more, I really don’t want to see staff being a scapegoat for it,” O’Neill said.
Breen said staff do great work but they have to make tough choices.
“They probably deserve better but I think this is what we have to do right now and quite honestly I think the union staff owe us one,” Breen said, adding that they will have to honour the contract made with the union but both parties should remember this.
Alls' motion for no cost-of-living increase for non-union staff and councillors carried in a 9-6 vote. Guelph/Eramosa mayor Chris White did not vote as he had a pecuniary interest.
Councillors in favour: Andy Lennox, Alls, Earl Campbell, Campbell Cork, O’Neill, Mary Lloyd, Don McKay, Breen and Jeff Duncan.
Councillors against: Linton, Bridge, Davidson, Seeley, David Anderson and Diane Ballantyne.
Keegan Kozolanka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com