DiVision's pay cut feels like a "twisting of the knife" says manager

Post by Daniel Fontaine in


Local doctors have diagnosed Vision Vancouver with Auditory Canalititis. A condition that prevents it from listening to public or staff feedback.

Based on the number of comments we've had on this topic over the last several days, it's clear that Vancouver City Manager Penny Ballem's decision to cut the pay of her top managers and exempt staff is not going over well. From the manager's perspective, they see it as unfair given that Ballem is planning to grab the cash and stuff it into a rainy day bank account which won't save a single public service job. From the unionized workers perspective, the "fat cat" managers made a lot of money working overtime in the 2007 CUPE strike and they are getting their just desserts for acting like scabs.

Regardless of which side you agree with, clearly Ballem's decision has opened up a wound amongst staff which may take a long time to heal. CityCaucus.com has obtained a copy of an email sent by a senior manager to the Mayor and Council just moments before they were about to make a final decision on the pay cut. We have hidden portions of the email in order to help protect the employee's identity:

Friday, December 18, 2009 10:16 AM

To: Mayor and Council


[section removed which referred to how long they had worked at city hall]...and I have never communicated directly to Council on matters such as this. However as I feel so strongly about the matter, it is the right thing to do.

The 2% wage increase delay for exempt staff is a major mistake on many levels: it is not being equitably applied (i.e. not to union staff, Council members etc- - were the Unions asked to renegotiate to assist in this matter?; asking for feedback and then disregarding the VACMPs survey results that such an increase be applied across the board and how the savings should be applied - not into contingency reserve; no time given to comment (including what would we recommend instead of this action….; resulting morale impacts, etc, etc.

I and other managers have continued to work with staff under extremely difficult circumstances, created, in our area to a large extent by the hiring freeze. We have worked very hard to input into and implement budget reductions and the Vancouver services review initiatives. And, we have continued to generate our departmental 'products', on time, with successful conclusions at Council and kudos from senior managers. This latest action feels like a punitive 'twisting of the knife'.

I do not have time to further articulate all the reasons this is so terribly wrong-headed, as I understand you are making a decision on this, this morning. I trust however, with even just the minimal amount of time you have to consider the implications of this, you will decide not to support the initiative.

There are rumblings at City Hall over the last few days that a number of city managers and exempt staff being asked to work a ton of overtime during the upcoming Olympic Games might be unavailable to do that work. Some have told us they just might have a bad cold during the period of the Games. Others are getting their act together and plan to speak with one voice to the city manager about their concerns.

The manner in which both Vision Vancouver and Penny Ballem handled this pay cut decision is, simply put, terrible. They first pretended like they wanted feedback. Then when they received it, they ignored it. This pattern must sound pretty familiar to the supporters of Bloedel Conservatory and Stanley Park petting zoo as well as those who spoke out against the 1215 Bidwell proposal and the impact of the HEAT shelters.

A pattern of non-consultation has become the hallmark of this Vision administration's first year in office. In addition, they (and their apparatchiks) exude a level of arrogance befitting a group of politicians who've been around a lot longer and accomplished much more than they have. With only 22 months left in their term, they'd best get a dose of humility soon. Otherwise, they may well blow what was I thought was an assured victory in 2011.

Whether Vancouver's city managers and exempt staff will do anything to fight the cuts remains to be seen. Regardless, the last vote made in 2009 will likely haunt this council well into 2010.

- Post  by Daniel


I am a long serving exempt manager (over 30 years), and have devoted all of my professional career to working at the City. While union members may call us 'scabs' for working during strikes, I think it is clear that we have done the citizens of Vancouver a great service in keeping the City operating during a strike. While we have been compensated for this, I can tell you that it does not make up for the time away from young families, working in sometimes terrible conditions, and for the extremely long hours. On top of that, most exempt managers have been 'playing along' with the extremely poorly managed Services Review which in the consultant's own word is based on "51% accuracy". So it's pretty clear that the savings that Ballem is pulling out of our pockets for contingency will be wasted since the savings promised from the Review are extremely unlikely.

As I've already stated in other discussions, I will not be going out of my way to assist during the Olympics beyond my regular duties, unless we are fairly compensated (as all Union members will be). I hope many other exempt staff will make the same decision.

And yes, this does feel like a knife in the back, but I fear it is only the first thrust.

You mention the zoo,Bucky's Building,Bidwell and HEAT,what about the bike lane "trial" which was really a kangaroo court that convicted the automobile of the crime of being an efficient,preferred mode of transportation ie no decrease in total vehicle crossings during the trial period.Conclusion? The increase in bicycle use is mostly recreational-at a cost of $2 million! Hmmm...just enough to have saved the Conservatory...

It would seem that the union members, or at least "the equivalent of 177" of them, have paid a price in the new budget.

Not so fast sv... the exempt staff (some of whom make less than union members) have already had their wage increase scaled back AND I will be surprised if there are not some job losses through the exempt ranks as well.

hahahahahahahaha. You want us to believe that 177 warm unionized bodies are going to lose their jobs? You know as well as I do that most of these are "phantom" positions that haven't even been filled yet. Ooops, did Ballem forget to mention that in her budget report?

Response to exempt and pissed:the services provided by the exempt staff during the strike...it was their legal duty to provide those services...to label them as "scabs" not only ignores the legal structure of the city's labour force,it is unfair and unnecessary belittling of people who are beholden to the city's whim for their livelihood.It is a bit surprising that there is no apparent attempt to obtain concessions from the unionized workers.This council's leadership seems to be creating conflict as a political strategy.Very cynical and very detrimental to the public weal.Also as Daniel points out very politically dangerous-they've fooled most of the people most of the time up to now,but a reckoning cannot be far removed.
I've had friends tell me they consider Gregor Robertson the worst Mayor ever...and that was before all this s*** hit the fan.

Maybe their autocratic, wrong headed ways are a blessing. If they keep this up, they will lose the next election.

Huh? You want the council to ask for concessions from the negotiated contracts...We know if they did this the site would be all over them saying how they dont respect the binding agreements?? We do know though that (since everyone says we are broke) its pretty much a guarantee that all the unions new contracts will be 0-0-0-0-0
and it will be this council that gets the kudos for that when it occurs! The unionized jobs are going - and many are through attrition, and thats a fact..some will be laid off; these are tough choices for anyone, and not what these elected officials want to have occur, They are making tough choices in tough times, and I too agree with the exempt attitude - that they had better be compensated for work during the games..(has it been stated that they are expected to give and not recieve??) Like anything life is about choices - choose a union job, work 20-30 yrs at a set wage with stability - you wont get rich but you will be comfortable --- or choose your exempt career which has many opportunities for aggressive advancement, bonuses, transfer or movement to private business with your city mgmt experience - both are good yet different career choices; A competent proficient mgr can be very successful...stock options and bonuses in private business, many times the exempt mgr personalities came from the union jobs as they progressed through their careers - and wanted more challenge (or power and respect)...when times are good (exempt ppl) they are really goood ..but alternatively when times are tough - it is tough trodding - that is choices of life -- we all know this going in....like anything else there are cycles....soon enough we will again be riding the high side of the wave ..and making great strides ...stay patient and strong....if there is another strike (which I doubt this time around) we will again be raking in the OTime..If we dont like it we can move on to other careers or cities....

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