Friday, September 21, 2007

CUPE 15 and 1004 will Vote

Jonathan Woodwards article explains why the "enhanced mediation" process is vital for both sides of this dispute.

Vote coming in long-running civic strike

Jonathan Woodward
Vancouver Sun

Friday, September 21, 2007 [ 7:00pm]

As the civic workers strike enters its 65th day, the city is starting to look a bit grimy. Crows and other animals have picked apart the garbage bags from these overfilled trash bins beside an eastside elementary school. There is still no end in sight to the strike.

The stage was set today for a vote that could end the city's second-longest civic strike.

Negotiators for the city and two of its striking union locals - representing inside and outside workers - agreed today they will formally present their positions to private mediator Brian Foley next week. Foley will then write a series of non-binding recommendations, which city managers will consider and union leaders will take to their 5,000 striking members in a vote.

"This doesn't mean the garbage will get picked up, but this is our first commitment to get a vote," said Mark Thompson, a professor emeritus at the Sauder School of Business at University of B.C.

There's been no agreement that negotiators for the city or for CUPE locals 15 and 1004 will vote to endorse Foley's recommendations, Thompson said. But since both sides are weary with a strike that has dragged on since late July, it will be politically difficult not to support them, he said.

"[CUPE 1004 president] Mike Jackson [would] have to stand up in front of his members and say, 'Stay on strike,'" said Thompson.

"When you've been out for nine weeks, you'd better have a darn good argument," he said.

Approving Foley's recommendations allows both sides to save face as well, said Thompson.

"It's non-binding, so neither side has to say, 'We knuckled under,'" he said.

No dates were set, but the vote could happen in about two weeks.

Such a vote is decided by a simple majority of those voting, said Thompson, but there's no guarantee it will end the strike.

"What if one local votes yes and the other votes no?" he said. "There are lots of permutations here."

At 65 days and counting, Vancouver is approaching its longest municipal strike ever. Outside workers, including garbage collectors, went on strike on July 19, followed by their inside counterparts three days later.

Talks have broken down three times as both the union and the city appear to be at loggerheads on a half-dozen major issues, including the scheduling of auxiliary workers and whether a unionized member can be laid off if the city decides to contract out services to the private sector.

Last week, both sides entered mediated talks with Foley. As a private mediator, he has no powers under B.C.'s labour laws, but he can propose solutions if both sides agree.

While neither side could be reached for comment as they remained in a "media blackout," both sides referred to Foley's process as "enhanced mediation" in their respective statements.

Negotiators for Vancouver's striking library staff, CUPE Local 391, continued negotiating today under B.C. Labour Relations Board mediator Debbie Cameron.

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