Sunday, October 14, 2007

Christy Clark on the CUPE strike

Sunday October 14, 2007

Christy Clark, Special to The Province

Published: 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.


Anonymous said...

A typical right wing point of view. Suggest an agreement that provides for a wage increase marginally over the cost of living index over five years is some type of great victory for the workers.

Ms.Clark seems to forget that those BCGEU and BCTF members did not loose three months of wages in order to achieve their agreements and she also neglects to mention that they got far larger signing bonuses. Furthermore CUPE was after a total ban on contracting out of services and unfortunately the City can still contract out; they just have to provide 6 months of notice first. Clark also overlooks that the City saved three months of wages that will inevitably end up as extra cash for the NPA to spend in a re-election effort.

All Clark is trying to do is make it look like CUPE won so that will only further drive the anti-CUPE sentiment amongst Vancouver voters. I am not happy with CUPE right now but I can see right through Christy Clark’s right wing spin job on the strike.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

A couple of things about Clark's article. First, she's right that 17.5% is a very good deal for CUPE. Most CUPE members claimed it wasn't about the money, but try offering the contract language CUPE wanted without the pay bump and see how far you get. Second, she's right in that CUPE snatched a PR defeat from the jaws of victory by taking a maximalist position after the 17.5% offer became the regional template: CUPE should have settled after the August long weekend. But it isn't quite as rosy for the union as she makes out. Considering that for the first three years of this deal CUPE could have had the first day of the strike. So the strike became a holding action on contracting out (which they lost) and the 4% and 4% increases in years 4 and 5 of the deal. But because they essentially funded this increase themselves by forfeiting 12 weeks of pay, its a lot more palatable for the City. Plus, there appears to be a split between 1004's leadership and membership as evidenced by 57% approval of a deal the leadership rejected, and there was growing friction inside 1004 between tradespeople that were making MORE money outside and didn't care about the length of the strike and workers trying to get back. I think this strike exhausted CUPE and hopefully has chastened them to use the strike weapon as the last resort and not the first.

Anonymous said...

didn't BCGEU and the teachers have a cash incentive to settle by a deadline without a strike? I guess Christy Clarke forgot about that. The City wanted this strike otherwise they would have used the provincial (incentive to settle) guideline that had proven so successfull for settling with its unions.

spartikus said...

CUPE should have settled after the August long weekend.

I can't speak for 15 or 1004, but CUPE 391 was not officially offered the Regional Settlement until Brian Foley came along. Management made claims in the press that it had ( and bargaining via the media is always, cough, a sign of good faith) but the actual documents received at the table were far short of the "Regional Settlement". On August 17, the 391 Bargaining Committee submitted a proposal to the employer. They did not hear back from them for nearly a month. You tell me who was engaged in a maximalist approach.

This unnecessary strike was provoked when the City made use of a little used, last resort section of the Labour Code and made a "Final Offer" to CUPE 15 in late July, an ultimatum that was overwhelmingly rejected in a democratic vote by 15's membership. The City had nowhere to go, having painted itself into a corner.

The theory that CUPE, and especially CUPE 391, has engaged in some sort of hardline "maximalist" strategy is not borne out by the actual facts.

jonuck said...

gee Christy you really went for the brass ring ....unfortunately, you don't know what you are talking about, STILL

you should follow your council meetings and know they would have contracted out garbage a long time ago if it was more effective. site north van who now has to rebuy all their trucks
The city gets good value for its money. Their drivers were reduced from some 125 to 72 approx when the city went automated trucks
AND waste management companies pay 25 dollars an hour for the same thing in the private! by the way

who wins Christy? it wasn't about winning, it was about bargaining hellooo negotiating

jonuck said...

oh and thank you spartikus for all your sane and informative comments
on the blog