10/7/07

Emotional, drugged ending to long, nasty gov't union strike

It's up to Vancouver, B.C. city workers and council members now to decide on ending the 11-week strike, after mediator Brian Foley issued a complex settlement proposal on Friday. Foley, who described the strike as one of the most difficult and emotional he's ever dealt with, said the proposal is balanced, giving the Canadian Union of Public Employees some, but not all, of what they wanted and providing city managers with "labour peace."

"I haven't taken sleeping pills in years, but I had to take them the last couple of days," said Foley in an interview with The Sun.

If approved by all parties, workers could be back on the job as early as Thursday.

"What's in there is what each side convinced me should be there," Foley said. "I considered this to be a very balanced package. I had to help the parties save themselves."

Neither city nor CUPE officials made statements Friday.

The proposal calls for a 17.5-per-cent wage increase over five years, a $1,000 signing bonus and contracting-out language that requires the city to give six months' notice to workers. There is no concrete information on how much Foley's proposals would cost.

Each of the three union locals - library workers, inside workers and outside workers - will vote separately over the weekend and all three have to accept it.

On Tuesday, Metro Vancouver's labour relations committee will vote, followed by Vancouver city council on Wednesday.

The proposal is retroactive to Jan. 1 of this year and would expire after the 2010 Olympics - on Dec. 31, 2011.

The city's 1,800 outside workers went on strike July 20.

They were joined shortly after by 3,500 inside workers and then 800 library employees. The strike is now at Day 79.

The strike brought residential garbage and recycling collection to a halt. Swimming pools, community centres, city theatres, marinas, libraries and city-run day camps have also been affected.

Unlike many strikes, the wage increase was not the main issue. Instead, complicated questions about contracting out jobs, giving extra money and benefits to new hires in hard-to-recruit fields, and pay equity for library workers were the sticking points.

The recommendations are so complex that no one on the picket lines Friday had any idea whether they would support them.

"All I've heard so far are three positive things but I have no idea what else is in there," said Andrea Duke, an engineering department employee who was picketing in the sunshine at city hall.

At a rally for library workers on the steps of the main library Friday, union leaders urged everyone to keep their spirits up.

"It's because of your resolve that we haven't been crushed by the employer," said past president D'Arcy Stainton.

It is the first time in their 77-year history that library workers have gone on strike.

Their biggest issue was getting pay equity for library workers, who are paid less than city workers for what they feel is work of equal complexity. Library union negotiators had asked for a committee to make recommendations on how to even out the differences.

Foley decided not to do that.

"I didn't want to give them some wishy-washy committee. Just give them the damn money."

WHAT DOES EVERYONE GET?

Foley's 39 pages of recommendations include:

ALL UNIONS

- 17.5-per-cent increase over five years.

- $1,000 signing bonus and a provision that vacation time and progression up the pay ladder, usually based on years worked, will be calculated as if the employee had been at work during the strike.

- Contracting-out language that requires the city to give six months' notice before any contracting out and provision for employees doing that work to be offered alternatives like other jobs, early retirement or retraining.

- A "partnership agreement" laying out ground rules for city work at Olympic venues, giving workers some rights to work and the city some flexibility in rescheduling work (library workers not included in THIS).

INSIDE WORKERS

- City to "consider" seniority when it is assigning work to casual employees.

- A process to convert casual workers to full-time or regular part-time status.

OUTSIDE WORKERS

- A $1-an-hour increase, above all other increases, for trades workers.

- Joint committee to work out a four-day week for people who work in garbage collection, equipment maintenance and parks.

LIBRARIANS

- 300 of the library's 700 employees, mostly the higher-paid full-time staff, get moved up the pay scale.

THE CITY

- Labour peace

- Language in provisions like contracting out, harassment policy and whistleblower protection that gives the employer reasonable room to move.

- Ability to give staff hired from other municipalities the same vacation time they would get in their new job as they had in their old one.

(canada.com)

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