CUPE’s B.C. regional strategic bargaining conference got down to business Tuesday night with a lively panel discussion on approaches to public sector bargaining that featured four labour activists representing a range of public sector union experience.
Ronald Boisrond, a CUPE Research rep from Quebec, kicked off the discussion by recalling the success two years ago of the Quebec Common Front, which highlighted what public sector unions were able to achieve through a coordinated bargaining approach. Close to 500,000 public sector employees came together to face the province’s worst economic situation in many years, giving up their local autonomy and sharing their resources. On June 24, 2010, eight months after the start of negotiations, almost all sector tables were able to reach an agreement, said Boisrond.
The other panellists all spoke to the theme of the conference: Bridging our Sectors to Strengthen Free Collective Bargaining in B.C.
“It has become evident that we need to restore free collective bargaining in B.C.” said CUPE’s B.C. regional director Robin Jones, commenting on the BC Liberal government’s record of legislative assault and the “net zero” wage mandate. “CUPE is committed to working towards a united public sector bargaining approach and achieving fair deals for our members.”
BCGEU director of negotiations and human resources David Vipond said the union movement needs to address government bargaining mandates with a “head-on” approach.
“Public sector unions in B.C. have all suffered, and over the last two years our members have lost five per cent of real income through inflation,” said Vipond. “This is our year; this is our opportunity to negotiate fair collective agreements for our members.”
Vipond, endorsing a collective approach between unions, gave several examples of how previous attempts at such solidarity have been undermined when one “black sheep union” breaks solidarity by settling outside of the collective strategy.
HEU secretary-business manager Bonnie Pearson stressed the importance of member and community engagement.
“We need to have a dialogue with our members about what collective bargaining really means,” she said. “We need to talk, not only with our members, but with our neighbours and with our communities about the public services we deliver, what those public services mean to the community and the pride our members take in delivering these public services.”
The conference continues throughout the week, with a variety of workshops on Wednesday and sector specific sessions on Thursday.