Saturday, August 18, 2007


Oldtown News
Vancouver, BC


I must state for the record that I'm a Union sympathizer. My late father, Ralph, was a Union organizer and my Mother, Alice, was very involved with the Fisherman's Union. My own involvement with unions included organizing a Union (CUPE ) in my workplace and I served as its President. While employed with DERA, I was heavily involved in union affairs as part of CUPE local 1004 who is one of the current striking bargaining units. So my position has always been that workers deserve fair wages and good working conditions. I support the right of all workers to belong to a union if that is their wish.

At the outset of this City of Vancouver strike, my belief was the public was onside with the workers and their respective locals of CUPE. However, as the strike drags on, tempers have become more intense and the public bears witness to an escalation of intimidation and anger. Potential violence erupting is a major concern. Often this violence is shown as instigated by the Union members and this is usually a defining moment in garnering or losing public support in any strike.

In Friday's edition of the downtown Vancouver Courier, a story was presented that street kids who have been part of a program giving them work training has riled union members. These street kids, many who are homeless and come from broken homes are trying to survive. They are part of a garbage clean-up crew of a program called the Street Youth Job Action Project.

Unfortunately, a number of Union members of 1004 began calling these vulnerable youth, scabs and this is unacceptable. CUPE 1004 Leader, Mike Jackson had a great opportunity to diffuse the situation and in the process gain needed public support. Instead, Mr. Jackson said he had no comment. Concerning is that Local 1004 now is being seen as ganging up on street youth and being indifferent to their plight. This in turn will ensure CUPE are viewed unfavorably by the public.

In another situation, running as the top story on Saturday's CTV newscast, the public was shown an angry group of Union picketers targeting the private Arbutus Club who were allowing their members to bring garbage to the tony Club for disposal. Tempers were flaring and Union members were stopping Club members from accessing their Club. The news showed one angry union member getting in the path of a Club member who had gotten out of his car. A car which held his two young children who probably were accessing their private sports lessons at the Club.

While the Union has legitimate grievances against any contracting out or replacement workers hired to do their work, its really dumbfounding to me why they would be upset with a private club allowing its members to bring their garbage to the club for disposal?

If anything this would have been a non-issue but because the Union made it an issue, the matter has backfired and made the Union look foolish.

This strike isn't about wealthier citizens having the ability to dispose of their garbage or about street kids picking up garbage as part of a training program. It is supposed to be about fair wages and working conditions for workers who belong to Unions.

To try and turn it into something else is really stupid on the part of the Unions. If they continue with these tactics, public sympathy will turn against them and I'm afraid the public will in response, turn their backs on the Unions.

The Union leadership must sit down with their members and remind them that their success rests on public approval. If they lose that, they lose everything they are fighting for.

Jamie Lee Hamilton