Sunday October 14, 2007
Christy Clark, Special to The ProvincePublished: Sunday, October 14, 2007
The thing I dislike most about the way the media cover politics is their unrelenting focus on who's winning and who's losing the public-relations war. Meantime, the substance of what's at stake goes unexamined.
That explains the coverage of Vancouver's civic strike.
There was lots of talk of who was up and who was down. But only occasionally did we see any analysis of the real issues.That approach may also explain why the various pundits have almost unanimously declared CUPE the loser as this silly strike grinds to its inevitable end.
They weren't paying attention.
First, CUPE wasn't the only loser in the battle for hearts and minds. The city lost, too. The union's overriding public-relations objective was to do some damage to Mayor Sam Sullivan. They took a beating, but they also succeeded in tarnishing Sullivan.
The second important fact is that CUPE members are walking away from this strike with an extra 17.5 per cent over five years. They have improved protection from contracting out. Plus, there's a $1,000 signing bonus to sweeten the deal.
It's true that Vancouver isn't the only municipality coughing up 17.5 per cent. Most of the rest caved for the same amount. But Vancouver employs the highest number of CUPE members of any city. It also has among the smallest proportion of its services contracted out to the private sector. That makes the settlement in Vancouver the costliest of any in the Lower Mainland.
And what does the city get out of the deal? According to mediator Brian Foley's report, some language in the new agreement gives it "reasonable room to move."
It will also improve vacation benefits for some new CUPE members. And, wait for it: the citizens of Vancouver get labour peace. Gee, thanks.
If those facts don't make it plain who won, consider what other public-sector unions got from a provincial government that's flush with money. The teachers' union got 16 per cent over five years. The BCGEU got 10 per cent over four years -- measly by comparison.
The pundits can grouse all they want about CUPE; for those of us who live in the city, it's quite clear who won -- the union.
It's ironic that CUPE's leaders initially failed to see what they had accomplished. Two out of the three of them at first rejected the mediator's recommendations. They got so caught up in the battle that they failed to see their victory. It didn't last, because at the end of the day, it's all about the money.
Ultimately, CUPE's leadership doesn't care a fig about who wins the PR skirmishes. Unions, especially public-sector ones, are used to losing in the court of public opinion. They don't care much about it because it doesn't add a cent to the bottom line.
Five years from now, no one will remember who got the best headlines. In contract negotiations nothing really matters except the cash. In this deal, it's CUPE that's laughing -- all the way to the bank.