Strike not top priority, says Vancouver mayor

Vancouver, BC Mayor Sam Sullivan said Monday that dealing with the civic strike is not his top priority, even as escalating job action by thousands of workers shut down services such as garbage collection, community centres and building inspections. The mayor cited the Millennium Line round table, the results of the film task force, a heavy city council agenda and a new policy proposal for the Little Mountain Housing site as his priorities for the week.

"I'm getting on with the job of being the mayor," he said after spending a large portion of the day touring the Canada Line construction on the "Dig the Dig" Family Bus Tour. "That's where my real focus is," he said. However, he said he was getting at least three briefings a day on the strike.

Mike Jackson, the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 1004 boss, which represents the 1,800 outside workers who have been on strike since Friday, was not impressed. "The way Sam's off playing with the kids today, it shows that he's really not interested in getting the services to the taxpayers," he said. "He's completely disregarding that."

Mr. Jackson echoed a call by Vision Vancouver councillors to take the savings from the strike and use it as a rebate for homeowners. The last civic workers strike, which lasted for six weeks in 2000, saved the city around $1.3-million.

"In a billion-dollar budget, a million is not a significant number," Mr. Sullivan said, calling the proposal "voodoo Vision economics."

Monday was the first day the 2,500 members of CUPE Local 15, the union that represents Vancouver's inside workers, were legally able to strike. Mr. Jackson said CUPE 15 had pickets up at 124 sites across the city, including City Hall, community centres, pools, parks and work yards.

The inside workers issued their strike notice Friday after 89 per cent of the union's members rejected what the city called its final offer. Keith Graham, CUPE 15's chief negotiator, said the overwhelming vote should send a strong message to the city to get back to the table.

"That 89 per cent means a lot because they knew they were going to hit the streets on Monday morning. That takes a lot of nerve. That was a very gutsy move on their part and it should show the city how serious our membership is with respect to having some of our issues dealt with," Mr. Graham said after he and some of his bargaining team crashed a news conference by the city to discuss what services will be lost during a strike. A full list of those services can be found on the city's website, www.vancouver.ca/jobaction.

The union that represents Vancouver's library workers, CUPE 391, is also in a legal strike position for the first time in 77 years, according to president Alex Youngberg. Today and tomorrow, the union will stage one-hour walkouts at the city's 21 branches, starting with the Central Branch today at 10 a.m., to inform workers about bargaining issues.

"If after that we can't convince the employer and the GVRD [Greater Vancouver Regional District] to come to the table then we're really going to escalate strike action and branches will close," Ms. Youngberg said. Two library branches, Joe Fortes and Britannia, were closed Monday due to CUPE 15 pickets.

In the District of North Vancouver, where almost 800 civic workers started their own full-blown strike Monday, Mayor Richard Walton said he was working toward resolving the issues with their union, CUPE 389.

"I think we owe it to the public and our employees to do the best we can to find a fair and equitable settlement," he said. "The message I'm giving is we are ready and willing to come to the bargaining table at any time."


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