A strike about nothing throttles residents

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      Managers save the city a few bucks at the cost of public health, literacy, a thriving arts community, social justice, and a whole lot of jobs.

      They used to call Seinfeld a show about nothing. Well, for the past two months, Vancouver residents have been subjected to a civic workers strike about nothing. The unions and management can agree on wages. They can agree on the term of the contract. They just can't work out a few other details, such as job security and a whistle-blower provision. The library workers want pay equity–otherwise known as equal pay for work of equal value–which adds a complicating factor to their dispute.

      It defies common sense why the NPA government can't promise job security when the city is going through a growth spurt and there is likely to be a slew of retirements in the coming years. One possible explanation is that city managers want to prolong the civic workers strike so they can rake in oodles of extra overtime pay and save the city a bundle of money by not paying public servants.

      In the meantime, this has created misery for hundreds of thousands of citizens. As the Georgia Straight has chronicled during this sorry affair, it has meant that mothers have to worry about their kids stepping on hypodermic needles in city parks. Poor families can't go to community centres or to city pools. Major real-estate developments have been put on hold because companies can't get permits. Entrepreneurs who have spent their lives working in this city now face the prospect of their tradespeople moving to Alberta.

      Meanwhile, seniors and the visually impaired have been deprived of reading material, as have Vancouver's vibrant multicultural communities, who rely on the library's extensive collection of multilingual books.

      That's not all. Arts groups have been shafted by the closure of civic facilities such as the Orpheum and Queen Elizabeth theatres. Many organizations had their hopes dashed that the strike would be over by September, including the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. The gay and lesbian community took its lumps during Pride week when the Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre was shut down. The Vancouver Recital Society scrambled to find a venue for star soprano Kiri Te Kanawa, thanks to this strike about nothing.

      During the last election, Mayor Sam Sullivan claimed he cared about the arts in Vancouver. He had the nerve to send invitations to the media, asking reporters to offer input on creating an arts policy for the city. Memo to the mayor: actions speak louder than words. The closure of civic facilities suggests you really don't care about the arts, and Vancouver's sizeable arts community will not forget this during the next election campaign–or during an NPA nomination race, if Sullivan's board has the guts to reverse a recent decision and allow a competitive contest.

      Once this strike is settled, heads should roll, starting with Vancouver's grossly overpaid city manager, Judy Rogers, who collected $318,838 in compensation last year, but who couldn't be bothered to show up at a hotel for negotiations with the unions earlier this summer. In the meantime, several talented city planners have buggered off to Abu Dhabi.

      The unions aren't entirely without blame for this mess. CUPE Local 15 has demanded union jurisdiction in all Olympic and Paralympic facilities during and after the Games, according to the city Web site (www.vancouver.ca/). NPA councillor Peter Ladner wrote an opinion piece in the Vancouver Sun claiming that the unions are demanding no layoffs for five years, and want the City to forfeit any chance of contracting out services.

      What Ladner neglected to mention was that job security is a very real consideration to any public servant subject to the whims of right-wing politicians. In this new era in British Columbia, every right-wing dolt drools at the mere mention of the words public-private partnership. That's no comfort to people worried about their jobs. Perhaps if Ladner and city officials set some parameters in this area, the workers might not be so suspicious.

      But let's not kid ourselves about what is really extending this ugly strike. It's money. By its own very conservative estimate, the City saved over $1.3 million during the seven-week dispute in 2000. Gross savings were close to $11 million, but city staff claimed a whopping $9.6 million in lost revenues and strike costs.

      Is it any wonder that city managers are placing such emphasis on parking enforcement this time around, rather than keeping community centres open for the kids? Is it any wonder that senior brass don't seem too concerned about needles in parks and no talking books for the blind? If you're confused about why this strike about nothing is taking so long to settle, just follow the money, and you'll have your answer.


      See related stories on the Vancouver civic workers strike at Straight.com:

      A side exit from the strike (September 27, 2007)
      A strike about nothing throttles residents (September 27, 2007)
      Labour expert says it will be hard for union and city to reject an agreement based on mediator's recommendations (September 26, 2007)
      Library workers agree to enhanced mediation (September 26, 2007)
      Vancouver civic workers strike undermines MS patient's recovery (September 21, 2007)
      Civic strike harms the poor (September 13, 2007)
      Is the civic workers strike exacerbating the gap between rich and poor in Vancouver? (September 13, 2007)
      Sam Sullivan's strike strategy (September 13, 2007)
      Suzanne Anton: Vision using strike for political gain (August 16, 2007)
      Strike stalls developers (August 9, 2007)
      Strike shuts down meeting (August 2, 2007)
      NPA divided on strike refund (August 2, 2007)
      Rats, yes, but bacteria love garbage strikes too (July 26, 2007)
      Long strike could jeopardize construction (July 26, 2007)
      Negotiations stalled on civic-worker contracts (June 14, 2007)




      Sep 27, 2007 at 11:15am

      Thank You Charlie for bringing up the plain simple fact that this is all about saving money and directing it.....where? I really hope the Judy Rodgers point hits home for most. I have a question, when the CUPE workers finally get back to serving our residents and free up the managers from replacing them, what is it that they do to justify their salaries?