Labour union pandemonium in Vancouver

Against a backdrop of mounting garbage piles on some Vancouver streets, the city and its municipal workers unions appear poised to resume bargaining this week. Contract talks continued Saturday for the city's 2,500 striking inside workers, while its 2,000 outside workers are hoping their talks will resume early this week.

"Our bargaining committee is ready to go 24/7. We're waiting for the word," said Mike Jackson, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees local representing outside workers. Meanwhile, negotiations with Burnaby's civic workers continue and seem to be going well, according to a CUPE media release. But rotating job action is set to begin at Simon Fraser University's child care society Sunday.

Negotiations between the North Vancouver recreation commission and its 800 workers resume Tuesday. Delta public employees, who rejected the city's "final" offer two weeks ago, have yet to issue 72-hour strike notice and remain at essential-services levels.


Teamsters vote for Phoenix transit strike

Sun Tran workers voted Saturday to authorize a strike if their union decides one is necessary after the union contract expires Tuesday at midnight. According to Andy Marshall, a principal officer for Local 104, 99.9 percent said "yes" in the votes, tallied after three meetings were held to accommodate members' schedules, a formality that is required under union bylaws. The contract, which expires Tuesday night, covers about 465 drivers, mechanics and fuel-island attendants, 85 percent of whom are union members, said Michele Joseph, Sun Tran spokeswoman. At issue are wages, pensions and health care, Marshall said.

A strike would happen only if Sun Tran on Tuesday offers what Marshall called a "firm and final" contract, which is usually a contract the union doesn't agree with. Union members would still have to vote on whether to accept the contract, and that vote wouldn't happen until a meeting next Saturday. If the members reject the contract, they will go on strike, as they did in 1997 and 2001.

"The biggest issue that needs to be addressed is the expansion of the city bus system in the future. We're concerned they're going to contract that work out for lower pay and benefits," Marshall said.
He said the Teamsters have proposed 12 percent raises and asked to maintain the health-care package.


Did you know ...

• The city has used a private firm to manage its bus service since the late 1970s because the City Charter prohibits employee strikes. The stipulation conflicts with federal transit grants, which mandate that recipients allow workers to strike. The current oversight company, Professional Transit Management Ltd., came on board in July 1999.

• In August 1997, Teamsters Local 104 went on strike after working for 10 days without a contract with Sun Tran when the union and the bus company could not agree on raises. That strike lasted for about a week, during which Tucson Unified School District began the school year with 3,000 students needing bus rides. The strike ended after the City Council stepped in and offered a one-year contract that raised Sun Tran workers' pay to what comparable city employees were earning.

• The following year, the Teamsters again said they were ready to strike but didn't have to. Their contract was renewed and increased average drivers' pay 19 percent and mechanics' pay 24 percent over the three-year life of the agreement.

• In 2001, the Teamsters union and Sun Tran extended their contract for a month after it expired, until the end of August that year. The Teamsters then agreed to work through Labor Day weekend but ultimately went on strike for 12 days before reaching an agreement that gave them $1.11 in raises over three years.


Canadian dysfunction: All CUPE'd up

The taxpayers of Vancouver held hostage. The City of Toronto forced into budget crisis. Calgary teetering on the brink of municipal labour unrest. Montreal headed for a major metro-wide service-destroying city workers' strike later this year. For all this and more we can thank the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the all-powerful radical labour group that uses strike threats and political power to hold real control over most government services across the country. All reform of city services is paralyzed. Essentially no privatizations take place in Canada, thanks to CUPE leader Paul Moist's relentless dissemination of scare-mongering stories and misleading research.

Mr. Moist landed in Vancouver on Wednesday to show his support for his striking, dues-paying members and to push CUPE's latest public negotiating gimmick -- wages and benefits that supposedly would give city employees enough compensation to allow them to live in expensive Vancouver. What this means in dollar terms isn't stated, mainly because it's just a public relations ploy. A CUPE radio commercial compares Vancouver workers to Olympic slaves in ancient Greece. "The slaves of ancient Olympia could afford to live where they worked, Vancouver civic workers cannot," says the commercial. "Tell Mayor Sullivan and council civic workers deserve a fair contract."

Good luck to Mayor Sam Sullivan. He's trying to fight CUPE, but he cannot win. With the 2010 Winter Olympics looming, the union will legally extort another fat deal. They've already rejected a 10% wage increase over 39 months --a city offer that covers the period up to just after the Olympic closing ceremonies. If the Mayor wants that bonus, he'll have to pay.

It's the way things work. Paralyzing strikes are the CUPE norm -- ritual extortions of wage gains, new benefits and favourable work rules. If no strike has occurred -- as in Toronto in recent years -- it's because the Mayor is a union man who doesn't want to damage cozy relationships with union bosses. Why endure a strike when you can give the union what it wants and move on to the next tax increase?

Toronto CUPE, after a fake frazzle over a possible strike in 2005, secured a new contract that was described by the Toronto Star: "Workers will get wage increases averaging 3% a year over the four-year term, plus a crack at getting back work that's now contracted out, and improved language on seniority rights for temporary workers who make up 20% of the membership." Today Toronto has a budget crisis. Wages make up 50% of the city's operating budget.

If any city employees in Canada have ever been laid off, it's not prominently registered in any public record: jobs are for life. Featherbedding and crony-ism are widespread. CUPE locals, depending on the city, dictate what work gets done and who does it.

City bureacracies are swamps of petty, costly regulations, many brought in to satisfy union-led campaigns. Toronto famously instituted a labour-intensive restaurant rating system that serves no purpose except to expand union workloads.

Canadians have no idea of the scale of CUPE's power and costly influence, thanks in part to willful media blindness. With rare exceptions, union-city labour negotiations are reported like sporting events. Rhetoric and posturing from both sides get detailed treatment, actual issues are never explored, and in the end a settlement is reached followed by ritual post-mortem blather to determine who "won" and who "lost," who "gave up" what phony demand to achieve some alleged compromise. Usually both claim victory. End of story. It's all just a media game.

Rarely, if ever, reported is the process by which CUPE extends its vice-grip control over city work -- moving garbage, building subways, operating pools or planting flowers -- and prevents any significant moves to cut costs or improve service.

For a glimpse into CUPE's control over urban life in Canada, consider the story of Montreal West, the tiny suburb in the metropolis's

west end. Home to only 5,600, the community is newly part of the unionized CUPE machine, the result of the twisted politics of Montreal's 2002 multi-city urban amalgamation and subsequent de-amalgamation.

Prior to its forced merger with the City of Montreal, Montreal West employed 15 workers affiliated with another union. The workers mostly lived in Montreal West, local people with local roots. With amalgamation, those workers became forced members of CUPE Local 301, the City of Montreal's notoriously thuggish employees' union. Even after de-amalgamation in 2006,Montreal West is stuck with CUPE, thanks to a provincial deal to buy off the powerful city union.

How CUPE operates is described in part in a recent letter to citizens from Montreal West council, including Mayor Campbell Stuart. It asks: "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" Answer: the union won't plant them.

The small community, which now employes 18 people, is part of a massive 6,500-member union with a contract that covers more than 100 different job classifications. Under the contract, employees are only required to work within extremely narrow job descriptions. "There are no designated 'gardeners,' for instance -- and so no flowers are planted unless the union allows a qualified employee to work outside his limited category."

The impact on Montreal West is costly. Town management can no longer assign the most appropriately skilled person. The union rep now makes all the job calls "based on whatever tactical criteria suits the union that day."

"Restricting what individual employees can be asked to do essentially cuts our town's available workforce by nearly half. In order to pick up town garbage bins, TWO men are required: one to drive the truck and one to empty the pail. SIX men (30% of our entire department) are required to repair a sidewalk: one to drive a 10-wheeler, one to use a backhoe, one to drive a pick-up with supplies, two to construct wooden frames, and one general helper. If the union rep allows, three employees could agree to perform the combination of complementary tasks necessary, but they cannot be required to do so."

Mayor Stuart told me that, as a result of these and other rules, Montreal West's city services are at a standstill. And then there are seniority and other issues. "Jobs are 'bid on' by seniority each day, rather than assigned by the [City] Director on the basis of skill. This union process takes between 30 to 60 minutes every morning, and often results in highly inefficient allocations. For instance, if a worker's selected job finishes at 2 p.m., he cannot be assigned another task without potentially triggering a new 30-to 60-minute bidding process for the whole workforce!"

The union in Montreal West, says the Mayor, is "run with an iron fist. They intimidate workers in my town as much as they try to intimidate town administrators." Flower planting was threatened unless a certain worker was assigned the job, for example. "We were told quite explicitly that no flowers were going to be planted until we hired the guy they wanted."

Under CUPE rules, Montreal West would have to increase worker numbers to 28 to get the work done. The union also wants wage increases of between 6% and 8% over the next three years. All of Montreal is now prepared for a CUPE 301 strike later this year.

Montreal West is a microcosm of what goes on across Canada. The specifics and scale are different, but from Vancouver to Toronto to Montreal, CUPE runs our cities along the same lines.


Striker solidarity from B.C. anarchists

Anti-poverty activists in Vancouver, B.C. have begun a campaign of economic sabotage targeting parking meters. So far, in one night, over 300 meters have been damaged in such a way as too make them useless. According to one saboteur, ‘This is an act of militant solidarity with the CUPE workers on strike. So long as this strike is going on - the city is not going to be cashing in. As well these acts of economic sabotage are a protest against the NPA’s Civil City Initiative that fines street level workers. If the city continues stealing the money from working-poor peoples pockets we will take it from their coffers.’

The launch of this campaign follows a confrontation that happened between strikers who had set up a picket line to prevent parking enforcement agents from leaving a garage. Police were then used by the city to break the strike line.


UFCW to picket WA hospital Monday

Informational picketing by the United Food and Commercial Workers union will start Monday at 6 a.m. at Providence St. Peter’s Hospital in Olympia, WA after registered nurses overwhelmingly rejected the latest contract offer. Nurses want to publicly explain their ongoing concerns about staffing levels, patient care and working conditions, a news release today from the union says. The contract covers more than 600 nurses who have been negotiating for six months. The previous contract expired March 1.

On July 11, nurses voted to reject management’s June 22 contract by a 97 percent margin. Nurses voted by the same margin to authorize the UFCW Local 141 negotiating team to set a date for picketing. Federal mediator Jeff Clark has been notified of the voting. The next date for mediation is Monday. UFCW Local 141 represents approximately 3,000 nurses at 22 hospitals statewide.


Another Steelworker strike looms in Canada

The countdown is on towards Algoma Steel Inc.'s first labour disruption in 17 years. Out-of-town contract talks between Algoma and United Steelworkers Local 2251, representing about 2,500 hourly production, maintenance, service and clerical employees, broke off late Thursday afternoon in Burlington. Contract talks between the company and Local 2724, representing nearly 600 salaried supervisory and technical personnel, were still ongoing late Thursday night.

Contracts between Algoma and Locals 2251 and 2724 expire in five days, at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday. "The negotiating committee is packing up and coming home," said Mike Da Prat, president of Local 2251, in a telephone interview late Thursday from Hamilton St. Joseph Hospital. "We are too far apart to avoid a strike next week. We stayed beyond our original deadline and were still unable to come up with a fair and reasonable contract."

The local had advised the company "repeatedly" it needed a tentative deal by 12:01 a.m. Thursday to give it time to return to Sault Ste. Marie and proof read and prepare handout documentation for Saturday membership information meetings.

The talks broke off at 5 p.m. Thursday, said Da Prat.

Three earlier "contentious" company language proposals pertaining to letters of agreement, contracting out and lines of sequence that had angered and frustrated the 2251 bargaining team had been "resolved," according to Da Prat, but the monetary proposal was an issue that couldn't .

"Their last official offer was two per cent in each of three years, with COLA (cost of living allowance) roll-in each year - that was less than we got the last time.

"The company has made hundreds of millions of dollars this contract, paid shareholders over $400 million, and yet our reward for helping them reap unprecedented profit is anything but fair."

Da Prat was admitted to Hamilton St. Joseph on Monday for a scheduled kidney removal operation.

"It wasn't an emergency procedure, I knew it had to be done, it was just a question of when they were going to do it," said the union president, who expects to be released either Sunday or Monday.

Merle Evans, 2251 vice-president, assumed the chair's position on the bargaining team but Da Prat remained active in discussions.

The negotiating team, which has been in Burlington for three weeks, expects to return to the Sault today.

Membership information meetings are scheduled for Saturday at the Steelback Centre for 9:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Meanwhile, the company and Local 2724 were still talking "monetary issues" as of 11 p.m. Thursday.

"We're still going at it," said Ian Kersley, president of Local 2724, in a brief telephone interview. "We're willing to stay as long as it takes to get a fair and reasonable contract . . . We have until midnight July 31st."

The interview concluded before Kersley could comment on whether his local would stay on the job beyond July 31, if the two sides were still talking, or whether the 48-hour period between membership information meetings and an actual vote, should they achieve a promise of settlement, could be waived.

"The information meetings are still a go for Saturday . . . Whether the negotiating team is actually there for the meetings is still to be determined," said Kersley.

Local 2724 has scheduled information meetings for noon and 8 p.m. at Best Western Great Northern.

Nearly 130 non-union personnel have been training for nearly two weeks on how to preserve and maintain company assets, such as coke making batteries, utilities, material handling, security and fire and flood patrols in the event of a labour disruption.

Non-union personnel are expected to be augmented by an unspecified number of workers hired through an outside agency.

The 25- to 30-day partial rebuild of massive No. 7 blast furnace, involving upwards of 500 tradespeople working 24/7 since July 6, will have been underway for 24 days at the strike deadline.

The USW hit the pavement for a record 112 days during the last labour disruption in 1990, from Aug. 1 until Nov. 21.

This is the first contract for India's Essar Steel Holdings Ltd. which received shareholder approval on their $1.89 billion cash takeover more than two months ago.

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