One possible explanation for the haphazard negotiations is a clash of negotiating styles.
CUPE is doing the traditional approach of ask for more than you expect to get and start with the easiest issues first.
City of Vancouver, however, is taking the Spice Girl's approach. "Tell me what you want. What you really, really want?" Additionally they are starting with the toughest issues first - wages & benefits.
I do find the City of Vancouver both mischievous and naive. Initially they had proposed a reduction in benefits (health, dental, employee savings plan) as a means to develop a Long Term Disability program.
Naive because the reduction of benefits appears as a claw back and hostility from the last strike (2000) is still evident. Good will is lacking, especially among City Hall staff and CUPE 1004 members. The high strike mandates of 93.5% from the inside workers (CUPE 15) and 97% from the outside workers (CUPE 1004) was the result.
Good will was degraded further as the Mayor of Vancouver continued stating that the union, therefore city staff, wish to hold the City hostage over the Olympics. He then asked the same people he has now described as extortionists to accept his final offer. An 89% rejection was the response.
Mischievous because the City of Vancouver will now say we removed the benefits package changes from the negotiations. Now the union must reciprocate. It was a non-starter. Claiming good faith is a good sound bite but lacks real substance.
CUPE has challenges too. How much is too much? How do you please both old school trade unionists and the new young professionals? How important is seniority vs a meritocracy approach. Hiring has shifted from seniority to a standardized method measuring skills, knowledge and abilities.
CUPE, unfortunately and predictably, will argue seniority forever.
Instead a balance between the value of seniority and importance of a meritocracy must be sought. The union's role is to ensure that the language of a new contract prevents manipulation of job descriptions. Meritocracy can be used to hire a manger's favourite bypassing existing staff with the requisite skills. Seniority reduces the incentive of the post baby boomer generation to view the city as a viable career option as most upper level positions will not open until the boomers retire - which given current trends will not be soon.
Normally I am optimistic but one last element of negotiations dampens my hopes.
It is personal.
The same people meet across the table from each other over grievances, complaints and contract talks. Naturally, players on both sides, begin to see their role not as negotiators but as actors in personal dramas or in competition.
If talks remain the realm of the personal there will be no negotiated settlements.