Gov't union strike set to drag on in Vancouver

As Vancouver entered its first day of a full-scale municipal shutdown yesterday, leaders on all sides of the broken negotiations were digging in and giving off clear signs the current walkout is likely to be a long one. At City Hall, Mayor Sam Sullivan stuck firmly to his message that the city has extended its final offer to the unions, and that he is not willing to approve any further concessions to get them back to the table.

"The regional partners have all agreed this is as far as we can go, being fair to the employees and fair to the taxpayers," he said. The city is offering a 9.5 per cent increase over the course of the contract. Meanwhile, union officials have said they've put in a number of different offers which have all been rejected by the city.

Both sides have said the main issue is contract length -- with the city bargaining for a 39-month contract and the union asking for a 36-month contract. But the city has been unyielding in its demand for a contract that continues beyond the 2010 Olympics.

"I personally can't imagine a scenario where I would put the reputation of our city at risk by agreeing to a contract that allows for a civic shutdown during in the middle of our most important moment," he added.

About 3,500 inside workers joined about 1,800 outside workers in setting up pickets yesterday morning. The outside workers started their strike Friday.

The city's 600,000 residents are now without garbage and recycling collection, building inspections and permits, city-run daycares, outdoor swimming pools, road, sewer and water main construction, and community centres.

At a press conference held to give an update on bargaining, city representatives said that unless the union provides a proposal that's "more consistent" with the city's last offer, "there simply is no basis for further discussion," city spokesman Jerry Dobrovolny said.

"To date, the unions have given us no real indication they are prepared to negotiate," he added.

During that press conference, six of the eight members of the CUPE Local 15 bargaining committee quietly slipped into the back of the room.

"Our members shot down the employer's last offer by 89 per cent," said Keith Graham, CUPE Local 15's chief negotiator. "Clearly our members have said we are not interested in the employer's position. ... "


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