SAINT JOHN – The city council defeated a motion Monday night to freeze the wages of city workers for four years.
After an hour-long debate, the council voted 8-2 against the motion, which was brought forward by the city’s mayor.
Don Darling said the economic uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic calls for swift, bold action.
“We have to look at our operations through the eyes of the taxpayer that just lost their income and can’t pay their rent,” said Darling.
“I’m not blaming employees. I know our employees care and we need all of them to acknowledge what they have and to be a big part of the solution.”
The wage freeze was one of several proposed actions in Darling’s motion, which he highlighted in a lengthy blog post last Friday.
David Merrithew and Greg Norton were the two councillors to vote in favour of the motion.
Merrithew, who chairs the city’s finance committee, said we have to try and protect the citizens of the city.
“Our citizens’ nest eggs have been greatly reduced. The speed and the veracity and the magnitude of this crisis is unprecedented,” said Merrithew.
But Coun. Donna Reardon, who voted against the motion, said much the city’s workforce are citizens and they also deserve to have certainty.
“We need to hear from our unions and our workers, which we’re not having that opportunity with this. It just shuts everyone out. I guess I find it a little bit dictatorial myself,” said Reardon.
Deputy Mayor Shirley McAlary said to make any big moves now, at this stage in the crisis, would be jumping too fast.
“You’ve got to understand that we have no idea where this is going to end up. We don’t know how many businesses in Saint John are going to have to close, we don’t know how it will affect the tax issue with us,” said McAlary.
City Manager John Collin told council the city’s “wage escalation policy” already gives them the tools needed to make recommendations in the future based on the economic impact.
But Coun. Norton said he believes the policy was “never intended nor could it have even contemplated” this type of global pandemic.
“I would propose that we pause the endorsement of any collective agreement for x number of months until we have a better appreciation of what exactly we are going to face and have to wrestle to the ground,” said Norton.
Council was expected to vote on a new four-year tentative agreement for CUPE Local 18, which represents the city’s outside workers, at Monday’s meeting. But the state of emergency prompted by the ongoing pandemic meant workers have not been able to meet for a ratification vote.
Also on Monday night, the council rejected a separate motion by Coun. Sean Casey to reduce the mayor’s salary by $10,000 and lower the salary of the deputy mayor and each councillor by 10 per cent.
Brad Perry is the news director with Country 94/97.3 The Wave, a Huddle content partner.