The folks at CUPE are popping the champagne now that Vancouver is about to bail from the regional bargaining process
With the release of next week's council agenda, the corks are popping over at CUPE headquarters now that former BC Federation of Labour operative Councillor Geoff Meggs has introduced a motion to pull Vancouver out of the regional labour relations bureau.
For those unfamiliar with the process, most cities in Metro Vancouver are members of what's called the Labour Relations Bureau, an employer-based organization that negotiates collective agreements on their behalf. By banding together, municipalities have been in a stronger position when they sit across the bargaining table from experienced Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) negotiators.
For years CUPE has wanted to break apart the municipal "union" in Metro Vancouver. By doing so, it is hoped they will succeed in getting higher wages and greater benefits for their members. If Meggs is successful in getting his motion passed, the next round of negotiations could well go something like this.
With 22 separate municipalities negotiating a collective agreement, CUPE chooses to go after the weaker and less experienced cities in order to initially set a very high bar. Once they have settled one collective agreement with a smaller municipality, they will use this as a base for negotiations with the next municipality...and so on and so on. It's the whipsaw effect applied to labour negotiations. At the end of the day, it will inevitably end up costing Metro Vancouver residential and business property taxpayers millions in higher wages and benefits.
During the last round of negotiations, Vancouverites got a taste of what whipsaw looks like. In the midst of the regional collective agreement discussions, Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie decided to sell out his Metro Vancouver colleagues by offering CUPE a generous 17.5% pay package. Richmond was not a member of the Bureau at the time. Suddenly Brodie's offer became the "base" that all other poorer (remember, not everyone has River Rock Casino in their backyard) municipalities had to negotiate from.
Metro Vancouver provides the following information regarding the rationale for the creation of the Bureau:
The effects of leading both the public and private sectors on total compensation costs created an unwarranted inflation of municipal budgets, greatly reduced the political opportunities available to respond to alternate spending priorities, and necessitated choices between transferring increased costs to the taxpayer or reducing levels of service. These impacts in turn created a recognition that the level of consultation and coordination provided by the Joint Liaison Committee must be significantly enhanced; a means had to be found for the municipalities, without sacrificing their individual autonomy, to resist whip-sawing and resist duplicating excessive settlements concluded elsewhere in the region or province. Therefore, in 1965 the Municipal Labour Relations Bureau (MLRB) was formed to provide common negotiating, research, and advisory services to its members.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is so concerned about the whipsaw effect that they have been lobbying the Province of B.C. to introduce province-wide bargaining for all municipalities. They argue that municipal wages and benefits have far outpaced those in the private sector. There has been no word from the Province as to whether they're prepared to support this type of legislation.
Earlier this year Meggs introduced a motion asking management to analyze the merits of Vancouver remaining a member of the Bureau. He now admits he can't wait for the results of that analysis and is simply going to forge ahead, regardless of the possible outcomes.
I suspect Meggs and CUPE want to ensure the Bureau is completely dead well before the next civic election. This would ensure that regardless of who forms the next civic government, their hands will be tied.
The fact that labour-friendly Meggs is removing Vancouver from the Labour Relations Bureau should come as no big surprise to Vancouverites. However, it will be interesting to see if Metro Vancouver taxpayers have any concerns over the prospect of 22 separate cities negotiating collective agreements all at the same time. This decision won't just impact Vancouver, it will impact all regional taxpayers.
The next round of negotiations could well become the mother of all whipsaw events. Here is a copy of Meggs' motion to be debated next Tuesday:
WHEREAS Vancouver is the only major municipality maintaining full membership in the GVRD Labour Relations Bureau, providing more than 40 percent of the funding while exercising only a single vote on the 16-member body; and
WHEREAS the decision of the City of Burnaby to give notice of its intention to withdraw from the labour relations function has precipitated a long review of the bureau's policies and structures which will not be completed for some months; and
WHEREAS this Council has requested a staff report on the pros and cons of the city's membership which has been delayed by the long review process at the GVRD; and
WHEREAS the City must give notice two years before expiry of its collective agreements if it wishes to withdraw from the function, a deadline of December 31, 2009; and
WHEREAS a decision to give notice would protect the City's option to withdraw, with potential savings of more than $500,000 a year starting in 2011, as the GVRD process continues;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED
THAT the City of Vancouver advise the GVRD Labour Relations Bureau of its intention to withdraw from membership effective December 31, 2011.