The other Vancouver demonstrated how it's done

Post by Daniel Fontaine in


money on the table
Unionized firefighters in Vancouver, Washington left money on the table as they decided to give up their pay raise in recognition of hard times

In a couple of days, new pay rates for unionized and management staff at Vancouver City Hall will kick into effect. All CUPE workers will get a 4% hike, while management will get 2% on January 1st followed by a 2% increase in July 2010. Both the police and fire service workers are also going to be receiving their pay raises as well. Civic politicians have already quietly announced they will be taking their 2.77% wage increase.

As many of you know, labour is about 70% of the overall cost of running the average city hall. Therefore, any increase in salaries ends up costing tax payers a bundle. By way of example, I was astounded that simply delaying a 2% pay increment for Vancouver's management staff by six months would save the City over $650,000. It should be noted that Vancouver's City Manager decided not to take the scheduled increase at all in 2010 (this according to Mayor's office staff, but never confirmed publicly by Ballem herself).

Despite the recession, there was one thing made abundantly clear by Vancouver's civic unions during the budget debate. There would be no delay in the scheduled pay raise and they would hear nothing of possible wage rollbacks. Yes times are tough, but a collective agreement is a collective agreement. Well, perhaps that doesn't always have to be the case.

We are coming up on a special one year anniversary that took place in Vancouver on December 30, 2008. Now we're not talking Vancouver, BC, rather, we're referring to an announcement made by Vancouver, Washington's unionized firefighters. They looked around them and realized the tax payers who pay their wages were stretched to the max while at the same time their local economy was in the tank (sound familiar?). That's when they voluntarily decided to give up their January 1st, 2009 pay increase. Their decision ended up saving the city over $700,000.

In a media release, they stated:

On Tuesday, December 30th, members of the Vancouver Firefighters Union approved by a 91% vote of its membership an unprecedented proposal: to voluntarily waive a previously agreed to 4% pay increase for 2009 in light of the tough economic times facing the city. The savings to the city amounts to over $700,000 in 2009.

Mark Johnston, President of the Vancouver Firefighters Union, was quoted as saying, "Our members overwhelmingly supported this proposal in order to ensure that citizens of the Vancouver Fire Department receive the fire and emergency medical services protection they deserve. Numerous members commented that they couldn't accept a 4% pay increase when their next door neighbors were being laid off and their coworkers across the city were facing significant cuts.

Wow. That's not something you see every day and it likely won't happen again soon, but you need to give full credit to the union and its membership for taking the hit. They could have done like their union brethren up North and stood firm. That decision resulted in hundreds of their brothers and sisters spending the holidays waiting to hear whether they'll have their hours cut back or still have a job in 2010.

As expected, Mayor Royce Pollard was ecstatic with the union's decision:

This extreme act of selflessness informs all of us of the incredible people we have working for our fire department. Let there be no doubt that this is a courageous stand. I want to extend my great respect and admiration to the Vancouver Firefighters Union for their dedication to this community.

As I've written here before, there are many pressures facing the budgets of both fire and police departments in our modern world. Due to more effective building codes which include the mandatory installation of sprinkler systems, fewer firefighters are needed to help battle blazes in our major cities. As for the police, stats indicate the overall rate of crime continues to plummet as the bulk of the bad guys are simply getting older.

In the case of fire services, a number of cities are currently cutting costs by implementing voluntary firefighters on call. This is a system that has proven extremely cost-efficient in many urban centres, but has been all but rejected in Vancouver. In terms of the police, many folks in the private sector are now resorting to funding private security guards to help "walk the beat" in their neighbourhoods.

Perhaps it was these pressures that factored into the decision making process for the Vancouver, Washington unionized firefighters. Regardless, as we near the one year anniversary of their announcement to refuse their pay increase, we should look to their decision and applaud them for being part of the solution.

- Post by Daniel


Don't blame CUPE. Robertson and vision never even asked them to take a pay freeze or cut. When you don't ask, you don't get.

They can ask all they want, the answer is no. We have a legally binding contract obtained after a bitter 3 month strike. Never give an inch!

Well, exempt staff were asked and responded with a resounding no to reducing or delaying the agreed upon raise. Some exempt staff qualified this by responding they would consider a reduction if it saved positions. Without any consultation, and dishonestly portraying it to Council, Ballem imposed the cut (and stuffed the savings into a slush fund no less). Exempt staff will have long memories about reneged upon agreements....

and in the end, the unions are selfishly taking what they want and to hell with the taxpayers. Interesting and something that I'll be raising with a number of people before the next election.


As the fourth largest fire department in Washington, Vancouver has the lowest ratio of firefighters to population served (.70 per 1,000) of all of the comparable cities in Washington state (average is 1.61 per 1,000).

Safety first. One of the many reasons I don't think Vancouver, WA is a city worth emulating.

How many more fire fighters does Vancouver need to hire only to find out they almost never fight fires? They are at the local safeway buying groceries more often then they are battling blazes. I'm told they also sleep a lot on the job waiting for the fire bells to ring. Not to mention that they are often competing with ambulance drivers to see who can get to the fender bender first. Vancouver washington fire fighters deserve our recognition and seem much more in tune with the taxpayers than you do Spartikus.

Wow, Jon. Never fight fires, eh? Maybe you should cut to the chase and call the firefighters fat.

Vancouver washington fire fighters deserve our recognition and seem much more in tune with the taxpayers than you do Spartikus

Are those the same Vancouver (BC) taxpayers who would be willing to prepared to accept a 7% tax increase to preserve service levels?

Rachel, everytime i read one of your posts, it leaves me shaking my head..

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…cca. 1775 A.D.“ Charles Dickens, from: “A Tale of Two Cities”

2009, what a Year it’s been! A Tale of Two Very Different Cities now:
Vancouver, Washington. 2009 A.D.(Anno Domini) Vancouver, British Columbia. 2009 A.D. (Anal Distress)

On one side of the border (US), people from all of walks of life came together and built a bridge! On the other side (Canada), people... obstructed one! Let’s call them... Burrardistos.

“The Apprentice Team Destroying Game” premiers in BC in early 2009; the lies, the backstabbing, the lies, the rollovers, the lies; "verba, non facta", have I mentioned the lies? “You’re fired! Here’s your “shutthefcukup” 6/49 EXTRA severance package. You my friend are hired! Here’s your”shutthefcukup” confidentially agreement, how’s Granny? And here we speak only Canadian and we've never met on Cortes, is that clear?!”

All throughout the year, the Olympic Games preparation in Vancouver, BC would have made Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus proud and green with envy. However, in the end, the self proclaimed Gurus mistakenly named the city “The Green Capital” instead of “Panem et Circenses Capitalis”

Et cetera. Et ceterea. Et ceterea.

2009 was the year when new words penetrated the political lingo. They say (in Washington) Mayor we say (in BC) Monsignor. They say Councillor, we say Cardinal. They say City Manager, we say Milady. They say Union Members; we say Dicks and Angels...

That’s what I’m thinking. It’s a matter of “You say potato, I say potatho; you say tomato, I say tomatho ...Tabarnac! Il est si simple!

We live in Vancouver, BC and this keeps us busy.

Is this the same Glissando who wrote so thoughtfully about Christmas? Was there something in the mincemeat???

The comments here from intransigent union members is a perfect reason why the City MUST contract out garbage services as well as some other services. Surrey's experience with private garbage collection has been very positive. Get with it Vancouver.

The last post had nothing to do with the topic other than to provote a resonse. As a resident, Surrey's experience with private garbage collection is not as positive as you may say. It was a complete clusterf... when they switched contracts the past year.
I do not agree with contracting out refuse pickup and paying cash corner workers 10 bucks an hour to work until they collapse.
The City of Vancouver has a sophisticated mechanical collection system that would required a huge startup cost that would never be assumed by a contractor.
The fact that the City built its own transfer station and has leasing rights to the Burns Bog landfill makes it the envy of all garbage profiteers. The net earnings on these sites is certainly worth hanging onto.
Vancouver is with it and ahead of other City's.
This will always be an issue with the right wing profiteers because the potential to squeeze money money out the citizens could be limitless and will always be a strong desire. If it is such a positive move, then why had the NPA not moved on this in all the years they were in power?

"It was a complete clusterf... when they switched contracts the past year."

Is this not proof that contracting out works. When you don't like the contractor, you can get rid of them. What do you do with CUPE workers?

"The City of Vancouver has a sophisticated mechanical collection system that would required a huge startup cost that would never be assumed by a contractor"

Why not just sell the city's equipment to the best bid? The private sector is much more creative than you give them credit for. The bigger question is why did council spend all this money for an automated system? What a waste of money. They should of just contracted this out and saved all that money.

"The fact that the City built its own transfer station and has leasing rights to the Burns Bog landfill makes it the envy of all garbage profiteers. The net earnings on these sites is certainly worth hanging onto."

You don't have to sell off these assets to privatize garbage pickup. This is a ridiculous argument.

The reason you can't sell the equipment is that under our progressive laws the union contract follows the assets. It was a very clever "poison pill" to ensure that the garbage service can never be contracted out.

Indeed, the city just doesn't have to "contract out" garbage collection, they have to ensure it's done right as well. The contract has to have quantifiable enforceable standards in it and penalties for non-performance.

Vancouver isn't the only city to face the question of contracting out garbage. Hypothesizing about what could happen here isn't very useful, you don't know. If your predictive powers are that good perhaps you should be talking to your stockbroker.

A better indicator of what would happen is what has actually happened in other cities, eg Winnipeg. We like to think we're special but, in fact, we're not that much different from other cities.

That is a good question about why the NPA never got around to freeing the city from the higher costs imposed by garbage strikes. Citizens want it, why didn't they do it? They were certainly in power for long enough and we've had enough garbage strikes.. they don't like change either? Didn't have the gumption to make the change? Who knows!

I strongly disagree with Daniel's view and some of the negative, spiteful comments posted here as well. Regrettably, it's commonly seen that people who have extra, refuse to help those in need. Supporting largess such as that demonstrated by those Vancouver Washington Firefighters is admirable. But what you seem to be supporting is a general discounting of middle-class Union wages; living wages.

Promoting wage reduction as a civic duty does nothing for our society but steepen an already downward economic spiral. The current recession exists because people are not buying goods and services. The cut and slash policies of our governments combined with ongoing private sector cuts, is not going to end the recession. If everyone across this province volunteered to work longer hours for an $8.00/hr minimum wage, our economic situation would be completely hopeless within a very short time.

The fact is that all economies exist because people have money to spend. More people spending more money is what drives an expanding economy. Without good wages, families cannot be supported; borrowing for a mortgage cannot be afforded; savings to buy cars, computers and furniture have to be foregone. Paying the taxes that support infrastructure for our security, transportation, and communication becomes unsupportable.

Parroting such neo-conservative hype will only intensify a negative mentality which reinforces the economic problems we face together.
We will not see an economic recovery to end this recession until everyone has more money to spend.

GBin has missed a point, Since the Transfer Station and the Landfill are not to be sold off to privatize garbage pickup, then where will the privatizers dump during the next labour dispute? Controlling the landfill has always been the objective of all previous garbage bids and the public will never allow this to happen.
Most private service workers are unionized anyways.

It looks like we Vancouver taxpayers are being held hostage. If you believed City Hall Insider (who sounds like he probably has a nice cushy job and an indexed civic pension) we have no choice but to have civil servants pick up our garbage. What poppycock. There are always options.

As for Glenn's comment, what a load of 'garbage'. He talks about keeping wages high in the public service as part of a more noble goal to keep our economy afloat.

My friend, it is the PRIVATE sector that keeps the economy afloat, not bureaucrats. Especially highly paid ones that pick up trash. Where do you think all that money comes from to fund those nice indexed civic pensions and lofty salaries you so admire? From people making on average $12 dollars an hour that's where.

So how is it socially just to say that the average Vancouver worker makng just above minimum wage should pay more on his property taxes in order that city hall insiders can get all the perks. What nonsense. This sounds like NDP econmics to me.

The comparison is a spurious one because it does not provide the context needed to understand the magnitude of the sacrifice on the part of the Vancouver, WA firefighters vs. the civil servants in Vancouver, BC. Throw a couple more facts into the mix -- like a lower cost-of-living in Vancouver, WA, or the price of an average home in WA being roughly 50-70% of one in BC -- and one begins to see the need for _context_ when making comparisons.

To take your comparison to the extreme:

People making a million dollar salary decide to take a 0% increase while people making $50 000 take a 4% increase. Should we celebrate the millionaires for their sacrifice?

Assuming the answer is no, at what point does the answer turn to a yes? When it is people making a 100K salary taking no increase vs a 50K salary? A 60K salary vs. a 50K salary?

Or, do we need to know more about the entire situation and context?

If we're all supposed "share the sacrifice" in these difficult times, then I think the City of Vancouver should reexamine the contracts it has with the hundreds of private companies it does business with and ask them to renegotiate.

I mean, why shouldn't they do their part too?

Are these the same private sector companies that are struggling to meet payroll in the current recession? What a great comparison Spartikus.

Struggling private sector companies vs unionized civic bureaucrats with indexed pensions who are about to get a 4% pay increase. Yes, I can see your point.

Ah yes, *all* the companies that are lucky enough to have contracts with the City of Vancouver - that great gravy train - are struggling to meet payroll, claims G Bin. I was particularly convinced by the evidence provided.

I would humbly suggest that if this is the case these businesses should not be, you know, in business. They've failed, and deserve to fail. Thus sayeth the Invisible Hand.

My point, such as it is, is that there has been a suggestion that civic workers have some sort of moral obligation to rip up a legal contract - a contract which, by the by, the blog post author's former boss signed. Of his own free will even.

If it's a question of morality and not business, then we all partake in it. And if you don't with that, then I would like to know under what principle a legal contract is good for one group, but not for another.

Please be detailed in your response.

Let's also remember that exempt staff are under no such protection. Their pay increase is completely at the discretion of their employer, and their moaning is simply that...moaning. Quite a few of these exempt staff were given the choice to leave the bargaining unit after the 2007 strike. They took the money. Now there's a price to pay. I think they call this irony.

Speaking of the aforementioned strike, G Bin, city workers have already given 1/4 of a years wage to City coffers. When exempt staff do the same - and hey, let's all pull together and get through this thing and maybe return those juicy overtime bonuses exempt staff earned in the Fall of 2007 - I'll be prepared to at least consider your arguments.

But I won't hold my breath.

In a Quandary,
Thanks for your thoughts.
As I said in that Christmas post, my name is on the NAUGHTY LIST for a reason. No biggie. However let's get real, that one was for Santa and the kids.
This one here is for Satan & helpers.
A slight difference,I may say...

Check out!

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