Geoff Meggs hands CUPE a major victory

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

12 comments

popping the corks
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.

12 Comments

We've seen how well the conquer and divide strategy worked for the North American auto industry. It will be even more effective in the public service where excessive settlements will just be passed on to the taxpayer just as they are right now. Unless there is a will to reduce government and contract out all possible services to the private sector, governments will continue to take more and more of the economy and the taxpayer will receive less and less.

Bill, first we'd need you to prove that "contract(ing) out all possible services to the private sector" would actually save the taxpayers money. It's certainly not a foregone conclusion. If you want to mention the North American auto industry, then we'll also have to drag into this discussion the complexities of the private banks that are currently ripping off taxpayers worldwide. That's PRIVATE banks.

Alex, the point of contracting out is that the supplier must be competitive and responsive to the customer, the taxpayer, or they will lose the contract. Politicians are not very good at resisting public sector union demands, particularly if it is the same people that got them elected.

If you want to drag in the banks, don't forget the US government who laid the groundwork by mandating that the banks extend mortgages to unqualified borrowers. And governments are laying the groundwork for the next boondoggle through Green initiatives like cap and trade. Al Gore won't be the only one to cash in on the billions of taxpayer money that will be floating around.

Yeah, I'd ask the citizens of Coquitlam after the council at the time had a great idea to get rid of our excellent municipal garbage service in hopes of saving the district money and go with a private service. Well the private service was terrible and in the end we paid more for the private service then we did with our excellent municipal service.

Norman, the great thing is that you can simply change your garbage provider if they are not cutting it. Be thankful when during the inevitable next CUPE strike that Coquitlam doesn't become a garbage dump like the rest of Metro Van.

AJ, instead we get refuse abound in our neighbourhoods all year round now because of the shoddy service. Previously we had workers that were part of the community and took pride in servicing that community. When there is a labour dispute is it an inconvenience sure, but heck the right to association is all part of democracy and thusly we have a better society because of it.

Norman, so what you're saying is that the City Management is not competent enough to set service standards for contracting out that would result in penalties if not met yet they are competent to actually run a collection business? I don't think so.

The union issue is a red herring. If a unionized private service provider is successful in getting the contract, great. However, if they can't provide the service because they are on strike then the City should have the right to get another service provider. That's democracy.

I think these criticisms of us leaving the GVLRB are misplaced. Being a member of the GVLRB didn't do anything to help the City's bargaining position last time because the other GVLRB cities rallied around 17.5%, like they might next time, so what's the point. Wouldn't being outside of the GVLRB last time have actually helped, because the City could have said off the bat "this isn't Richmond, if they want to waste their tax dollars they can go ahead" instead of the meek and mild "it's not our file" stuff?

It seems the fundamental problem Cities have in negotiating with their unions isn't any "whipsaw" effect so much as the "we don't care what happens to other people's money" effect combined with the "we'd rather be golfing" effect.

If governments had some boldness they would get a better deal, no boldness no better deal. You don't hear corporations whining about needing to federate with other corporations to negotiate with their unions. That's because they're serious while governments typically are not.

Michael,

With respect, former BC Fed operative Geoff Meggs understands better than most people what the power of a union is. United we stand, divided we fall.

If all 22 municipalities are divided, they will ultimately pay the price when it comes to negotiating new collective agreements with CUPE (huge donors to Vision).

Why isn't Meggs offering to strengthen the Labour Relations Bureau, rather than blowing it up? Why isn't he putting forward an alternative to the GVLRB, rather than walking away from the table?

In the past, despite not being members of the GVLRB, cities like Surrey and Richmond always waited until the larger round of negotiations were completed prior to signing their own deals. This helped to keep costs in check.

In 2007, Malcolm Brodie decided to circumvent that process and cut a deal with CUPE offering his employees 17.5%. This became the template for negotiations from that point forward.

If you recall, prior to that point, the template had been a 39 month agreement for 9.75% reached with CUPE in Port Moody. Once Brodie gave CUPE 17.5%, this agreement was null and void.

The GVLRB may have its flaws, but you don't simply throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Listening to Meggs say he is doing this to save $500K is simply laughable. Nobody believes him when he says this. He knows very well that Vancouver pulling out of the Bureau will kill it, hence costing all municipalities millions of dollars.

I still think what's missing in these negotiations is simply government fortitude. Sure the Richmond deal allowed CUPE to say, "Richmond could afford to give us 3.5% per year, so can you" but the Port Moody deal just as easily allowed governments to say "You accepted 3% per year from them, you can accept that from us too." It's all up for interpretation, and the public would be happy if their municipality got a better deal than others. Taxpayers don't think in terms of "well, Richmond settled for 17.5% so my government better too" they think "17.5% wtf, I hope we don't settle for that".

It's about being expressive to the public and showing you are bargaining in good faith, two things the public didn't find in their government last time.

Meggs doesn't seem to think we need to bottleneck our negotiations with a negotiating federation where all municipal interests are aggregated, it's a totally valid opinion shared by a few other municipalities.

And I'd caution that not everything that's in the union's interest costs taxpayers money. They have no desire to be stuck in a rigid, time-consuming process when flexibility and timeliness are what prevent strikes, and when strikes cost them millions of dollars.

Geoff Meggs' latest blog post addresses this issue head on, especially the potential savings.

http://www.geoffmeggs.ca/2009/11/07/vancouvers-labour-relations-burden/

If the current costs are about $1m, and if we pull out they will be several hundred thousand, that seems to be savings of around $500,000, as Geoff first posed.

Rebuttal, CityCaucus?

Brenton,

Clearly you are not only spending a lot of time on this blog, but also reading all of Meggs' talking points.

So let me get this right. Meggs is unhappy with the results of the Metro Vancouver Regional Labour Relations Bureau. Rather than spending even one hour of his time trying to "fix" the so-called problem or offering solutions on how to improve the GVLRB, Meggs decides the solution is to simply abandon ship.

Hmmm...with that type of logic, we should simply shut down the City and contract everything out because we can't seem to get taxes under control. Obviously that's not going to happen. Nor should it.

This has nothing to do with saving money and you know it. This is a huge win for CUPE and they deserve recognition for all of their efforts.

The real cost to Metro Vancouver taxpayers will come in the next round of labour negotiations when we have 22 municipalities competing with each other to get CUPE's attention. It will make what Mayor Malcolm Brodie did during the 2007 negotiations look like a walk in the park.

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