Thursday, October 11, 2007

Striking for a Principle? (how long....)

Since late July, public services in Vancouver has been halted. The strike is entering its 85th day. Libraries are closed, senior daycare and childcare centers remain shut, garbage collection are stopped and many parks, building maintenance etc are not available. In other words, when the union and the city management are at loggerheads, the people suffer. Interestingly, both the union and the management are part of the people too, so they too will be affected in some way. As a parent, I find this article from the Vancouver Sun, illuminating and make a lot of sense. it is one thing to fight for a principle. It is yet another to fight all the way while the public is affected negatively as a result. The strike has gone on for too long. It is time to look longer term and ask ourselves what kind of principles we want our kids to learn.

Common sense, maturity missing among some of the union leadership
Vancouver Sun

Thursday, October 11, 2007
You can't always get what you want but if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need. -- Jagger/Richards
Children learn early on that they can't have everything they ask for. By the time they reach kindergarten, the concepts of limits, trade-offs and compromise are well entrenched.

These principles are reinforced in adulthood when common sense comes with maturity. They are fundamental to social order, to family relationships and to employment contract negotiations.

Vancouver's inside city workers, members of CUPE Local 15, recognized that labour negotiations require give and take and voted 73 per cent in favour of accepting the terms of a contract proposed by mediator Brian Foley, which include a 17.5-per-cent wage hike over five years, a $1,000 signing bonus and amendments to provisions covering contracting out, harassment, whistleblowing and job reclassification.

CUPE Local 15 president Paul Faoro, who recommended his members approve the proposed deal, clearly understood those fundamental principles. He said the collective agreement "had been bettered," and that his members can go to work knowing it is the best deal they can get "under the circumstances."

No, the union didn't achieve everything it might have hoped for but it has improved the terms of employment for its members. That's its job. The settlement matches those of public servants in similar occupations in neighbouring municipalities. It's one they can live with until the next round of negotiations.

But the leadership of CUPE Local 1004, representing outside workers, and CUPE Local 391, representing library workers, told their members to reject Foley's recommendations. Library workers did so overwhelmingly -- 78.1 per cent voted against it -- even though nearly half would benefit from a job classification upgrade on top of the regular wage increase. "They'd would have had a wishy-washy committee that went nowhere," Foley said of the union's demands. "I gave them pay equity."

Most outside workers defied their union leaders, who had urged rejection of the proposals, and voted 58 per cent in favour. It's a rare event when the rank and file fails to heed the advice of its local executive. Nevertheless, the members' clearly stated intention to accept the deal, end the strike and return to work will be denied because of a union bylaw that requires a two-thirds majority to ratify a contract.

Foley said he had "poured his heart and soul" into finding a solution to the strike. But Dave Van Dyke, a Local 1004 bargaining committee representative, disparaged his efforts. "Foley's sold us down the river," he said.

Since a majority of outside workers don't share that opinion, Local 1004 leaders might want to tone down the rhetoric if they plan on being re-elected. Besides, CUPE locals agreed to have Foley mediate their contract dispute with the city. To suggest he was partisan and did not act in good faith is untrue and an insult that warrants an apology.

Like children who want it all now, some union leaders are demanding benefits and restrictive contract language (particularly as it relates to disciplinary measures and caps on deferred vacation) beyond what Foley has proposed. They are also beyond what the city is prepared to pay. Even so-called non-monetary issues carry a cost, whether they're sick leave, vacation entitlements, extended health insurance or contracting out. Such measures make it more expensive to run the city.

City finances are not infinite. Municipal funding comes from taxpayers -- indirectly from the province and directly through property taxes and fees. Vancouver residents already face a property tax hike of eight per cent and aren't likely to welcome further increases to pay for richer wages and benefits for city workers than they receive for their own labours.

Foley's proposals meet the test of a good compromise -- they don't make everyone happy, but set reasonable terms that provide all at least some of what they need.
© The Vancouver Sun 2007

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