CUPE Has Been Very Reasonable in Their Demand
Interview with Tim Louis, Former Vancouver City Councilor
By Shannon Bundock
On August 8, 2007, seventeen days into the CUPE strike in Vancouver, British Columbia, I had the chance to discuss the state of civic politics with local municipal politician Tim Louis. Tim’s perspective on the strike is particularly relevant as he has been active in municipal politics for decades, a civil litigation lawyer and a strong history of public service. He was elected to the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation in 1990 and again in 1993. Tim was also key to the creation of BC Transit's HandiDart service for disabled transit users. While serving on the board of the Vancouver Public Library, Tim expanded services for print-impaired readers, and as chair of the finance committee, he shifted the library's budget from deficit to balance. Tim Louis served as a Vancouver City Councilor from 1999 – 2005. Currently he is an executive member of The Coalition of Progressive Electors – COPE in Vancouver. Below Tim digs into the issues at stake, why the current city council is resisting against CUPE and how things could be done differently.
FTT: First off, what is your take on all of this? Or perhaps I should ask, what do you think of the demands of the striking inside and outside workers, especially CUPE 15’s demands for a fair and dignified contract with job reclassification, job security etc?
Tim Louis: As is too often the case with right-wing governments, what we see here is a very clear and deliberate attempt by the current municipal government to provoke a strike in an effort to gain popularity through an effort to turn the public against public sector workers. Fortunately in this particular case, the effort seems to have failed dismally.
The union has been very, very disciplined and very reasonable in their response to every unacceptable demand put forward by management. In particular, when management demanded a 39 month contract, CUPE took a very principled position and said, if 36 months is unacceptable to you, because you are concerned about a contract expiring just prior to the Olympics, and 39 months is unacceptable to us because we’re concerned with a contract expiring just after the Olympics, then lets look at all the other options on the table, rather than arguing over “36 yes-no” or “39 yes-no”. Let’s look at a 24 month contract or a 48 month contract or even a 60 month contract. Management, in an effort to provoke a dispute dug in their heels and said, no it had to be a 39 month contract or there would be a strike.
The outlying municipalities, Richmond being the first, agreed to a 5 year contract, and that really boxed the management in Vancouver into a corner.
FTT: Can you elaborate a bit on why the majority of city council, and especially Mayor Sam Sullivan, are resisting the proposals by CUPE 15? What is their agenda really?
Tim Louis: As I alluded to in the previous answer, right-wing governments too often are unfortunately successful in provoking a strike and then blaming the victims for the strike – the victims being the workers who were simply putting forward very fair and very reasonable requests. I would frame them more as requests than demands.
The media, in partnership with the right-wing government of today, then tries to create an anti-public-sector worker environment within the public for electoral advantage, for political gain. So I think that’s what’s behind it.
FTT: What would you do if you were on city council – or Mayor of Vancouver – in this situation?
Tim Louis: One of the first things that I would do is honor COPE’s commitment in the 2002 election campaign - a commitment that the now Vision councilors, in coalition with the NPA stopped city council from honoring. And that would be the reintroduction of the compressed work week – a work week that benefited workers by allowing them to work more hours four days a week in order to take the fifth day off. It benefited families by allowing families to spend more time with their breadwinner. It benefited the public increasing the hours city hall was open - working more hours fewer days meant longer days. And it also benefited the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from commuting to and from city hall by 20% - 4 days of week rather than 5 days a week. That would be one of the first things I would canvass with the union.
The second thing I would do would be offer to enter into any term contract other then the 36 or 39 week. I think that would be a very principled way of resolving one of the two major disputes – term of contact.
The third thing that I would do is offer a wage increase that would be a combination of the CPI [Consumer Price Index] and the GDP growth rate over the upcoming term, so that workers would not just stay constant in terms of inflation, but they would also stay constant in terms of as the economy grows workers should benefit from a share of that growth.
FTT: Do you have any final thoughts or comments?
Tim Louis: I love your paper!
FTT: Thanks so much for the interview Tim.
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