There's more to Vancouver's civic strike than just the question of wages and benefits, says a member of Mayor Sam Sullivan's Non-Partisan Association caucus.
As far as NPA councillor Suzanne Anton is concerned, the job disruption is being orchestrated by CUPE locals and the opposition party Vision Vancouver as a disguised political action against Sullivan. "There's a huge political agenda going on here," Anton told the Straight. "It's interesting that the non–NPA councillors seem to very closely related to CUPE. They don't support management, they support CUPE, [and] they certainly don't support the mayor at all. It appears to be suiting their political agenda to have the strike continue."
Prior to the strike, Anton told the Straight that she is supporting the mayor's bid for reelection in 2008. Anton said that the language being used by locals of the Canadian Union of Public Employees and by Vision Vancouver to describe the strike is a giveaway.
"It's interesting that both [Vision councillors] Heather Deal and Raymond Louie and CUPE like to call this 'Sam's strike'," Anton said. "Why are they doing that? That's obviously 100 percent politics. That's not about trying to get a good settlement for CUPE members. That's about promoting a political agenda. Councillors Raymond Louie and Heather Deal are on the same page politically as CUPE–and that is, they hope to take shots at the mayor."
An ex–union organizer, Louie has often been touted as a future mayor by former mayor Larry Campbell. When sought for comment about Anton's political reading of the strike, Louie told the Straight that Sullivan has only himself to blame for the labour mess. He said voters will decide if it's a "political hit" against the mayor.
"But clearly voters are unhappy with the strike and the mayor's inability to solve this," Louie said. "The inaction of the mayor to solve this is what is driving the displeasure."
With support services on hold, garbage is piling up and health authorities have begun to raise concerns. City spokesperson Jerry Dobrovolny has suggested that the strike may continue into the fall.
The municipalities of Burnaby, Surrey, Delta, Richmond, and the District of North Vancouver have wrapped up bargaining with their civic workers, with new contracts having been ratified by CUPE locals. Negotiations are going on in other jurisdictions, from the City of North Vancouver to New Westminster and Langley. In Vancouver, talks recently collapsed, and both parties have accused the other of refusing to negotiate.
"I think the mayor just mismanaged this from the beginning," Louie said. "The mayor's lack of knowledge on labour-relations work in the city of Vancouver and his lack of leadership ability have exacerbated the situation."
It isn't the first time that politics has bled into the labour dispute. Days before the city's 5,000 workers walked off the jobs on July 20, an e-mail inadvertently circulated by city clerk Syd Baxter blamed "BC politics" for the workers' unrest.
"Ask any one of the staff why they are striking and they don't know," Baxter wrote in his July 12 e-mail, which found its way to members of the Coalition of Progressive Electors. "Truly, no exaggeration. CUPE and I have no doubt Geoff Meggs and company are engineering this across the region."
Meggs, a member of the Vision Vancouver executive council, was executive assistant to former mayor Larry Campbell, a founding member of Vision Vancouver whose core group were breakaway members of the former COPE council. Meggs is currently executive director of the B.C. Federation of Labour.
Anton declined comment on anything that has to do with Meggs. She noted, though, that city records show that labour unions contributed heavily to both Vision Vancouver and COPE during the 2005 campaign. The Straight reported earlier that labour unions want Vision Vancouver and COPE to put up a coalition to defeat the NPA in 2008.
"There's some kind of a concerted political action going on here," Anton insisted. "The city has made a number of offers. The city has made it clear that they would like a settlement”¦and yet for some reason CUPE is not accepting that settlement. The only conclusion I can draw from that is there is a greater political agenda going on here."
Paul Faoro is president of CUPE Local 15, which represents 2,500 inside city workers. In an interview with the Straight, Faoro said that the mayor wants to weaken the unions by forcing an agreement that would allow the city to contract out public services to the private sector.
Faoro said that Sullivan himself strongly hinted this when he posted a statement on his personal Web site (www.mayorsamsullivan.ca/). That message noted that union negotiators are insisting on "language restricting the City's ability to provide services to Vancouver residents".
"They must have amazing powers that they can predict the date that the strike is going to end," Faoro said about Dobrovolny's statement that the strike could last into the fall. "It certainly tells me that they've got some other agenda."
For his part, Faoro denies that the strike is a political action against Sullivan. "The mayor's leadership to date has been poor, and I think the public are going to make that decision next year and I don't think the public needs a strike to reinforce that Mayor Sullivan hasn't delivered strong leadership to the city," he said. "This strike is about the city's attempt to take away existing rights from our union."