Sarnia City Council may defer benefits issue to bargaining table

City management recommendation would see any discussions taking place during contract talks


With some four of the City of Sarnia’s five unionized worker groups due for a renewed contract by the end of 2016, a proposal that would have seen the municipality unilaterally cutting post-retirement benefits appears to be heading for those negotiations.

That’s exactly what should have happened all along, said Mayor Mike Bradley at a media briefing on Friday.

Bradley said dealing with issues of employment terms and conditions in any other way hurts relations with the City’s workforce.

“This wasn’t necessary, and what we’ve always done is Council gives direction to staff on negotiations, what the total package should be – benefits and salaries – and that’s brought back to Council after negotiations. That’s the way you do it and that’s the way you do it in any organization.”

On Monday’s regular meeting agenda is a proposal by City management that recommends the issue of retirement benefits being debated at closed-door contract negotiations.

Under the proposal, a cap of $3,500 would be placed on health care spending for those who retired earlier with at least 25 years of service. That cap is half the current $7,000 the City spends on benefits.

A strong negative reaction from City unions has been part of the landscape since the proposal was first discussed openly last year.

One of those exchanges was a threat of action to be taken to the Ontario Labour Relations Board if the City goes ahead with changes mid-contract.

City management has said that post-retirement benefits are outside the limits of the collective agreements, although City manager Margaret Misek-Evans did say in the report to City Council that more meetings with union officials would be a positive development.

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