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RICHMOND-CUPE bargaining conference participants had two packed days Thursday and Friday. They took a selection of workshops on a variety of topics ranging from pay equity, to privatization, to bargaining communications.

They broke into regional groupings – bringing together sectors within each region and providing another perspective on common issues and strategies for the upcoming round of bargaining.

Two Friday morning panels – one for locally funded locals and the other for provincially funded locals – gave participants an opportunity to hear from those outside of CUPE, and to discuss key issues and bargaining coordination.

Retired CUPE legal representative Carmela Allevato chaired the provincially funded panel, comprising Irene Lanzinger, BCTF president; Judy Darcy, HEU secretary-business manager; Jim Sinclair, BC Federation of Labour president; Bill Pegler, CUPE National representative; and Robin Jones, CUPE’s acting B.C regional director.

Bill Pegler set the context for bargaining in provincially funded locals (K-12, community health, community social services, colleges and universities) with an overview and history of public sector employer associations and the Public Sector Employers Council (PSEC) in B.C.

Irene Lanzinger talked about B.C. teachers’ longstanding concern with the provincial bargaining model. Lanzinger said that despite many studies which have found serious problems with the teacher bargaining structure, little has changed. On coordination, she described CUPE as the teachers’ strongest ally, as CUPE K-12 members and teachers face many of the same issues. Her message was that the “solidarity will be there.”

Judy Darcy walked through the bargaining challenges HEU members have faced and overcome. She noted that job security issues – which the union won the right to bargain with the Supreme Court decision on Bill 29 – will be key in 2010 bargaining.

CUPE’s acting regional director Robin Jones opened with a look at current bargaining for the ambulance paramedics (CUPE 873) who are facing a difficult round. Robin outlined a range of supports that CUPE is putting in place to encourage better communication within regions and across the province. He stressed the importance of coordination, and encouraged locals to begin their preparation for bargaining now.

Starting with a quick review of the provincial budget and government’s wage freeze, the BC Fed’s Jim Sinclair discussed what he anticipates will be a tough round of bargaining. He talked about the importance of the outcome of the May 12 provincial election, but noted that coordination among unions will be critical regardless of who is in government. His message was straightforward: “We go backwards individually and forward together.”

The locally funded breakout session kicked off with a slide presentation on the services locals provide and how they are funded. CUPE National research representative Blair Redlin chaired the panel comprised of Malcolm Graham, manager of Labour Relations, Metro Vancouver; Derek Corrigan, Mayor of Burnaby and previous chair of BC Translink; and Tania Jarzebiak, CUPE National job evaluation representative.

Malcolm Graham, who bargains 63 collective agreements on behalf of 16 municipalities, said that although Metro Vancouver has no formal province-wide system of coordination, they do have internal coordination – including gathering and sharing data from other areas.

Derek Corrigan connected the dots on how the high cost of P3s and privatization has led to massive debt for Translink, which could in turn affect contract negotiations. He flagged a concern that municipalities will be faced with insufficient busses, drivers, maintenance workers and transit supervisors.

Tania Jarzebiak defined pay equity and discussed CUPE’s efforts to pursue pay equity legislation. She also explained how job evaluation can be a means to address inequities and shared some job evaluation successes.

Conference participants left for home on Friday, having had a full three days and ready to put in place plans for effective bargaining in the upcoming rounds of negotiations.