Georgia Straight: Commentary – A Strike about nothing throttles residents

Georgia Straight Commentary A strike about nothing throttles residents

During this 2007 Vancouver civic strike, I have told the Georgia Straight about the incredible intellectual, creative and cultural brain trust being wasted during the Vancouver Library CUPE 391 strike.

The Georgia Straight interviewed me for the August 30th News Features | Boss and union tell different tales | It was a story that revealed that Vancouver library workers are paid substantially less than their counterparts in Toronto, and starting labourers in other city jobs.  CUPE 391 President Alex Youngberg gave good reasons why pay equity is important for the library workers…

But one whole month later, Vancouver library workers hosted “Word on the Strike” as a parallel event to Vancouver's largest book and magazine fair, Word on the Street.  It was a large demonstration of CUPE 391's creative, intellectual and cultural response to being on their first strike in their union's 77 year history.  Puppet shows, street theatre performances, information tables, origami making workshops, musical performances, poetry and literary readings…

Community groups still can't present their shows or lectures at the library.  Historians can't access archives.  Small businesses can't access databases, Scientists can't access reference material, students can't access course and related material, ESL citizens can't access multilingual books, magazines and newspapers, citizens who don't have home computer or internet can't access their free hour of computer internet time, visitors can't ask for directions etc.

And why?

Because Vancouver library workers have been without a contract since December 16th…
Because the Library Management's negotiating team did not present their first proposals until 2 weeks into the strike, long after CUPE 391 made their opening proposal in December of 2006.
Because the NPA has a secret agenda?  see 24 Hours Vancouver – News: Mayor Sam's the real loser in strike
– written by ex-NPA board member Alex Tsakumis

Read Charlie Smith's commentary in the current Sep 27 Georgia Straight

Commentary By Charlie Smith

Library workers exercise their minds on the picket line, but that

Library workers exercise their minds on the picket line, but that's little comfort to seniors and kids who want to read.

save the city a few bucks at the cost of public health, literacy, a
thriving arts community, social justice, and a whole lot of jobs.

used to call Seinfeld a show about nothing. Well, for the past two
months, Vancouver residents have been subjected to a civic workers
strike about nothing. The unions and management can agree on wages.
They can agree on the term of the contract. They just can't work out a
few other details, such as job security and a whistle-blower provision.
The library workers want pay equity–otherwise known as equal pay for
work of equal value–which adds a complicating factor to their dispute.

defies common sense why the NPA government can't promise job security
when the city is going through a growth spurt and there is likely to be
a slew of retirements in the coming years. One possible explanation is
that city managers want to prolong the civic workers strike so they can
rake in oodles of extra overtime pay and save the city a bundle of
money by not paying public servants.

In the meantime, this has
created misery for hundreds of thousands of citizens. As the Georgia
Straight has chronicled during this sorry affair, it has meant that
mothers have to worry about their kids stepping on hypodermic needles
in city parks. Poor families can't go to community centres or to city
pools. Major real-estate developments have been put on hold because
companies can't get permits. Entrepreneurs who have spent their lives
working in this city now face the prospect of their tradespeople moving
to Alberta.

Meanwhile, seniors and the visually impaired have
been deprived of reading material, as have Vancouver's vibrant
multicultural communities, who rely on the library's extensive
collection of multilingual books.

That's not all. Arts groups
have been shafted by the closure of civic facilities such as the
Orpheum and Queen Elizabeth theatres. Many organizations had their
hopes dashed that the strike would be over by September, including the
Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. The gay and lesbian community took its
lumps during Pride week when the Roundhouse Community Arts &
Recreation Centre was shut down. The Vancouver Recital Society
scrambled to find a venue for star soprano Kiri Te Kanawa, thanks to
this strike about nothing.

During the last election, Mayor Sam
Sullivan claimed he cared about the arts in Vancouver. He had the nerve
to send invitations to the media, asking reporters to offer input on
creating an arts policy for the city. Memo to the mayor: actions speak
louder than words. The closure of civic facilities suggests you really
don't care about the arts, and Vancouver's sizeable arts community will
not forget this during the next election campaign–or during an NPA
nomination race, if Sullivan's board has the guts to reverse a recent
decision and allow a competitive contest.

Once this strike is
settled, heads should roll, starting with Vancouver's grossly overpaid
city manager, Judy Rogers, who collected $318,838 in compensation last
year, but who couldn't be bothered to show up at a hotel for
negotiations with the unions earlier this summer. In the meantime,
several talented city planners have buggered off to Abu Dhabi.

unions aren't entirely without blame for this mess. CUPE Local 15 has
demanded union jurisdiction in all Olympic and Paralympic facilities
during and after the Games, according to the city Web site (
NPA councillor Peter Ladner wrote an opinion piece in the Vancouver Sun
claiming that the unions are demanding no layoffs for five years, and
want the City to forfeit any chance of contracting out services.

Ladner neglected to mention was that job security is a very real
consideration to any public servant subject to the whims of right-wing
politicians. In this new era in British Columbia, every right-wing dolt
drools at the mere mention of the words public-private partnership.
That's no comfort to people worried about their jobs. Perhaps if Ladner
and city officials set some parameters in this area, the workers might
not be so suspicious.

But let's not kid ourselves about what is
really extending this ugly strike. It's money. By its own very
conservative estimate, the City saved over $1.3 million during the
seven-week dispute in 2000. Gross savings were close to $11 million,
but city staff claimed a whopping $9.6 million in lost revenues and
strike costs.

Is it any wonder that city managers are placing
such emphasis on parking enforcement this time around, rather than
keeping community centres open for the kids? Is it any wonder that
senior brass don't seem too concerned about needles in parks and no
talking books for the blind? If you're confused about why this strike
about nothing is taking so long to settle, just follow the money, and
you'll have your answer.


See related stories on the Vancouver civic workers strike at

A side exit from the strike (September 27, 2007)
A strike about nothing throttles residents (September 27, 2007)
Labour expert says it will be hard for union and city to reject an agreement based on mediator's recommendations (September 26, 2007)
Library workers agree to enhanced mediation (September 26, 2007)
Vancouver civic workers strike undermines MS patient's recovery (September 21, 2007)
Civic strike harms the poor (September 13, 2007)
Is the civic workers strike exacerbating the gap between rich and poor in Vancouver? (September 13, 2007)
Sam Sullivan's strike strategy (September 13, 2007)
Boss and union tell different tales (August 30, 2007)
Suzanne Anton: Vision using strike for political gain
(August 16, 2007)
Strike stalls developers (August 9, 2007)
Strike shuts down meeting (August 2, 2007)
NPA divided on strike refund (August 2, 2007)
Rats, yes, but bacteria love garbage strikes too (July 26, 2007)
Long strike could jeopardize construction (July 26, 2007)
Negotiations stalled on civic-worker contracts (June 14, 2007)

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