Over 7,000 City of Vancouver workers are on strike for a fair contract, with the first of them beginning the strike on 19 July. Members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) trade union Local 15 (representing "inside workers"), CUPE Local 1004 ("outside workers") and CUPE Local 391 (library workers) have walked out after months of negotiations in which the city failed to make a reasonable offer.
The strike is affecting most of the city’s services including libraries, community centres and leisure facilities, garbage and recycling, road maintenance and repairs, and planning applications. Garbage is piling up, parents are hit with the closures of activities for children during the summer holidays, and developers and the construction industry are complaining about hold-ups due to lack of permits.
The previous contracts for most municipal workers across the Greater Vancouver region expired at the end of 2006. The members of the Vancouver locals voted overwhelmingly for strike action. Local 15 voted 93.5% in favour of a strike, Local 1004 voted 96% in favour, and in Local 391 97% of the workers supported the strike.
The background to the dispute is that Vancouver is booming. Apart from the preparations for the Winter Olympics in 2010, the city is gaining from strong trade across the Pacific with Asia. The city looks like a giant construction site and unemployment is low.
While each local and most municipalities negotiate separately, both the unions and management obviously coordinate policy. Since the Vancouver workers began strike action, many of the other larger municipalities in the region have reached settlements. The neighbouring municipalities and union locals in Richmond, Delta, Burnaby, Surrey and North Vancouver have reached settlements based on a 17.5% wage increase (18.76% compounded) over a five-year term. These new contracts also include improved conditions. The Vancouver council has resisted a settlement with the trade unions as have some of the smaller municipalities - no doubt waiting to see what happens in Vancouver.
The length of the contract is one issue of dispute, as the last contract was for 3 years and another 3-year contract would end in the midst of the Winter Olympics which the city didn’t want. Instead it has proposed a 39-month contract, ending just after the Olympics, and including a pay rise of around 10% with unfavourable strings attached. The union locals felt that their bargaining position would be weaker just after the Olympics and want some benefits for agreeing a longer contract. Since then the city has moved to offer a 5-year contract but not a 17.5% pay rise. They are also holding out on many of the conditions.
The mood of the pickets is upbeat and the public are largely supportive of the unions. The treatment of the workforce is in contrast to the pay for senior management, such as the City of Vancouver’s Manager, who received c$318,838 in 2006, including a holiday bonus of c$48,000. This is higher than what most council workers earn in a year. Why, with most municipalities settling for 5 years with improved pay and conditions, are workers in Vancouver forced to strike and deny the people of Vancouver the services they paid their taxes for? Most people would answer that the dispute is the responsibility of the right-wing led City Council, and the Mayor’s aim of trying to weaken the unions.
Messages of support
CUPE Local 15
CUPE Local 1004
CUPE Local 391
- CUPE Local 15: www.cupe15.org
- CUPE Local 1004: www.1004.cupe.ca
- CUPE Local 391: www.cupe391.ca