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The Vancouver Sun

Tue 23 Oct 2007, Page: A15, Section: Editorial

Column: Barry O’Neill

Source: Special to the Sun

It doesn’t take 30 years experience in the labour movement to know that when an employer views its workers as the enemy, there are going to be problems in that workplace.

It’s also likely that an employer with this attitude will have a difficult time resolving workplace issues without grievances, or bargaining issues without a strike.

Usually, such an employer’s contempt is masked, hard to put your finger on, but in the City of Vancouver it’s so much a part of the fabric and modus operandi that the CEO, Mayor Sam Sullivan himself, shamelessly forced his workers on strike and, as they return to work three months later, reminds them that “the battle lines are drawn” as he declares war against their union and places contracting out of garbage services and jobs on the council agenda.

This spiteful attitude is precisely the opposite of what is required here. This should be a time of healing, building trust, repairing relations and working together to improve the workplace and fully restore the public services we provide to residents. You don’t have to be a trade unionist to know that a happy worker is a productive worker.

Perhaps the mayor sees all opposition as his enemy. He shouldn’t. When CUPE does oppose the mayor, it is with just cause and legitimate reason.

What choice did CUPE members have but to oppose Sullivan when he falsely accused them of trying to sabotage the Olympics?

Or when he forced a final offer vote on the workers and urged them to accept the inferior agreement, filled with benefit and contract language takeaways, or go on strike?

Or when Sullivan declared that the strike was not his top priority?

Or when he publicly backed the city’s negotiators as they consistently refused to even discuss union issues that CUPE was able to negotiate without a strike with employers throughout the region, such as improvements for casual workers, anti-harassment language, whistleblower protection and pay equity?

It was hard for striking Vancouver civic and library workers and the public to watch as CUPE negotiated fair contracts in municipality after municipality around them as services in Vancouver were disrupted and workers stood without pay on the picket line with no end in sight.

No doubt, the healing process won’t be easy. But in the public’s interest and in the interest of positive working relations, let’s give it a try. What is at stake is the well-being of the public and of a community, and that is far more important than anyone’s ego or political ambitions.

Our challenge to Sullivan and the Non-Partisan Association is different than their challenge to us. Rather than declare war, we ask that they start by being as concerned about the hearts and minds of their employees as they are about capturing votes, by any means necessary.

Why not end the rhetoric and form the kind of mutually beneficial relationship CUPE has with countless mayors and councils throughout British Columbia and Canada? Let’s work together to make Vancouver a place where everyone, including the workers, are treated with respect.

For my part, I can guarantee that CUPE won’t be providing a candidate to run against Sullivan in the next election. However, CUPE members are most likely to vote their conscience, according to their experience and for a mayor who supports strong communities, believes in the fair process of collective bargaining and chooses co-operation over confrontation.

Ninety-nine point nine per cent of the thousands of collective agreements CUPE signs with employers every year are achieved without a strike. Let’s make Vancouver a place where strikes don’t need to happen before a fair contract can be ratified.

Since many private garbage companies are also unionized, contracting out garbage collection is no protection against strikes – good employers and respectful relations are.

With some effort, together with CUPE cooperation, we can get there, too.

So, Mayor Sullivan, we challenge you to change your course, commit yourself to positive labour relations, mutual respect in the workplace and to recognize that CUPE is not your enemy.

Why not be a mayor your workers can support?

Barry O’Neill is president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, B.C.