Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Oldtown News
Vancouver, BC


As the Vancouver municipal strike lingers on, and the war of words between the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and negotiators for the City keep flying, the ones feeling the brunt of this unnecessary prolonged strike are the citizens of Vancouver.

Overflowing garbage containers, dirty smelly alleys, parks and streets. Increased rodents scurrying about as they have a field day feasting on our garbage. Community centres closed, no reading at the Library, families hard-pressed to find day care and swimming pools closed to our young.

Disruption to citizens lives is common-place as a result of strikes. While its vitally important for public workers to have fair wages and good working conditions, whether the public should be expected to fully pay the price of a needless strike is a question that needs answering in this latest City of Vancouver dispute.

Loss of services to City of Vancouver citizens is essentially, unacceptable. No question, workers themselves are feeling the pinch as they receive only a fraction of their regular pay. Many of these workers though may not be in the same position as Vancouver residents since likely they live in other jurisdictions which are free of striking workers.

On the one hand, CUPE prefers a 5 year contract with generous pay raises . That's like finding gold if you can get it. I'd certainly like to know if top-level managers in the City enjoy five year contracts? It would be interesting to know the length of contracts with our Firefighters and Police officers. Our elected officials are not given 5 year mandates and I believe they shouldn't be.

Politicians in the City have taken a hands-off approach to bargaining except for Mayor Sam Sullivan, who in the early days of the strike, often voiced his political thoughts, which unfortunately were not helpful. Council voted on returning funds to the city taxpayers for loss of services and so they should. It goes without saying that if you are not receiving services why should you be expected to pay for non-existent services?

While the strike drags on like a really bad drag number in a gay bar, a number of elected officials at the parks board are stepping forward and calling for political debate regarding the strike. Unfortunately, they requested this through the media and when this happens, the other side (opposing party) usually digs in and doesn't respond favorably.

I think political discussion is fair game during a strike since at least the public are kept informed of the actual differences and issues at play between the warring factions. I don't think citizens should be expected to receive the news only through the media, from whichever side is spinning it. The public are paying the salaries of elected officials and employees. Hence there must be direct accountability to the public and this rests at the feet of our elected officials.

No doubt, if there is discussion in the political arena, a number of politicians may use it as an opportunity to score political points, however, the citizens are not dumb and at the end of the day, we can see through political spin and posturing and get to the meat of the matter.

While its important to have negotiated settlements in labour relations, its not OK for any side to just walk away willy nilly from the bargaining table. This is what is happening now and this is clearly unacceptable.

I think there must be a form of labour/employers arbitration brought into all public sector contract language but only after a prolonged period of time and exhausted efforts has been made to break a stalemate to reach a bargained settlement.

The citizens deserve this because at the end of the day, it is in the public interest to receive public services which are paid for. Its the public who are footing the bill and who are the most impacted. There must be some form of protection for the public since nasty strikes can create health concerns. This may be the only way to address breakdowns in bargaining.

Jamie Lee Hamilton