Vancouver and Lower Mainland CUPE Workers Resist Employer Offensive
By Mike Chimenti & Max Tennant
“We are always ready to negotiate … the difficulty is the City of Vancouver has refused to bargain from day one.”
- Paul Faoro, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 15 President, July 19th 2007
For eight months, CUPE 391 (Vancouver library workers), CUPE 1004 (Vancouver outside workers) and CUPE 15 (Vancouver inside workers) have been without contracts. The unions have been fighting since December 31st 2006 to negotiate in good faith with the City of Vancouver. On numerous occasions during the month of July, CUPE tried to negotiate with the City to prevent a strike. However, the City showed no interest in negotiating with the Union and all three locals were forced to strike.
On July 9th the City of Vancouver tabled their final offer to CUPE 15, attempting to impose a settlement on city workers that did not address any of the workers’ concerns. On July 19th, 89% of CUPE Local 15 members rejected the offer. The next day the Union offered to negotiate an honest contract with the City, but were stonewalled by the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) Labour Relations Bureau, forcing CUPE 15 to give 72 hour strike notice.
The main concern put forth by CUPE 15 is converting auxiliary workers to regular part-time or full-time positions which accumulate benefits and seniority. Two-thirds of Vancouver Parks Board indoor workers are auxiliary and do not receive benefits and statutory holiday pay or accumulate seniority, regardless of their many years of service.
"Not a single library workers' issue has been addressed in the days of talks that took place."
- Ed Dickson, CUPE 391 Bargaining Committee Chair, July 20th 2007
On July 25th, after many attempts by the City’s library workers to negotiate with the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Public Library Board, CUPE 391 decided to begin their strike action.
CUPE 391’s main concern is pay equity. According to a CUPE report titled “Overdue: Pay Equity for Library Workers,” the predominately female library work force makes only 64 to 82 percent of the wage earned by municipal workers. Comparatively, the wage for library assistants in BC educational institutions is 22% more than municipal library assistants. As well, municipal librarians make $10/hour less than librarians working at Capilano and Douglas colleges.
“The City said today that they were finally going to bargain and that they had some ‘flexibility … instead, they … just left, without a word – they didn’t even agree to any further bargaining dates,” said Mike Jackson, president of CUPE 1004. (July 17th 2007)
CUPE 1004 is demanding a fair wage increase in times of obvious prosperity for the City. As the cost of living continues to climb, along with housing costs, the City offered only 9.75 % over 39 months. The same city council that claims its finances are stretched thin approved a salary increase of 62% over two years for City Manager Judy Rogers, whose salary jumped from $197,000 in 2004 to $319,000 in 2006. Subsequently, CUPE 15’s proposal of a 21% wage increase over five years was flatly rejected by GVRD negotiators as “unreasonable”.
As the municipal strike continues, the City has begun a slander campaign against the workers, alleging that picketers assaulted a pregnant woman and slashed the tires on City vehicles. Counter to the City’s attempts to characterize their employees as thugs, on August 1st CUPE 15 voluntarily took down their picket line at the Ray-Cam Community Center on East Hastings St. after members of the community asked for daycare and youth services to be reinstated.
As the strike in Vancouver extends into its 3rd week, municipal workers in every other Lower Mainland municipality have signed contracts guaranteeing them wage increases in each of the next five years. CUPE locals in Vancouver are fighting for the same goal as their union brothers and sisters in other Lower Mainland municipalities - a fair wage increase to maintain their standard of living, and security and fair treatment for currently unprotected auxiliary workers.
In the past few years, workers across Canada have been increasingly under attack. Cuts to social programs, healthcare and post-secondary education have all made life for working people increasingly difficult. In Vancouver alone, homelessness has doubled from 2002 to 2005. The final bills for the Olympics and the final results from the new wave of gentrification have yet to be tallied. This makes it increasingly important for working and oppressed people in BC and across Canada to support CUPE workers’ struggles in Vancouver. The outcome of the CUPE strike in Vancouver will set the stage for the many labour struggles that are sure to come once the flood of Olympic investment money dries up and the economic boom it is fuelling collapses. Any gains won now, during times of “prosperity”, advance the front lines of the working class battle for the right to control our own futures and put all working people in a better position to defend our rights and to defend the gains made by the struggles of millions of working people in Canada and around the world.
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