How long until the cupboard for municipal salaries is completely bare?
It was another "take out the trash Friday" news bulletin that caused barely a ripple in local media. The only news we've been able to locate on this are a lone Canadian Press clipping that has been recirculated by a few media outlets. It's no larger than a letter to the editor on the Vancouver Sun website. For Vancouver taxpayers it could be an ominous sign that Canada's least affordable city is going to stay that way for some time.
On Friday the City of Vancouver announced its settlement with the Vancouver Police Department – 8.8% over three years, retroactive to April 1st, 2010. It contains wage hikes of 2.95 per cent in the first two years and an increase of 2.55 per cent in the final year. Not only have the media not taken interest in the story, but so far not a word from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
Gregor Robertson is quoted in the release that "he's pleased the two sides reached an agreement that respects taxpayers as well as the hard work performed daily by members of the police department." Of course, by "respecting taxpayers" he is referring to those of us who are fine with pay hikes that are double the rate of inflation.
Currently Vancouver police members earn at or slightly higher than the average for Canadian cities. The decision to give the nearly 9% wage increase, which was approved by Vancouver city council, was based upon the fact that other City workers have received increases over the past two years. Of course, what they're citing is the five-year deal signed in 2007 that resulted in a nearly 18% increase in pay for thousands of staff.
For those who are not familiar with the expression "whipsawing" as it is used in the context of modern labour negotiations, it means that one union uses another union's settlement as a starting point from which another deal can be reached. The City was essentially convinced by the police union that since their 3-year deal expired before other workers' five-year agreement, they deserved the extra two years plus another.
We reported how this is exactly what happened to City of Port Moody taxpayers last year. By settling for three years at a better rate, the City was penalized by a "top up" agreement to match other Metro Vancouver locals. It cost the (tiny) City of Port Moody an additional $450,000.
The cost for policing is far and away the single largest expense on the City of Vancouver's books. The VPD budget is over $100 million annually.
Now there are not a lot of folks who don't have a high respect for our emergency services personnel such as police and fire workers. When you've got a crime or life safety matter you want to make sure you get the services you require.
However, the pressure of rising costs of government are creating another crisis of affordability for the taxpayers. How on Earth will we ever square that circle?
The Province of British Columbia under the leadership of former Minister of Finance Colin Hansen established Mandate 2010 to settle dozens of separate collective agreements. It's to the great credit of both government and the union leadership that so far they have been able to achieve net zero settlements for two years with many of these unions.
These public sector unions aren't pushovers. Jim Sinclair has sat across from the table and settled for zero & zero. So have college workers, transit workers, CUPE locals and health workers. Mandate 2010 doesn't get any headlines, but it shows that when labour and government agree that the cupboard is bare, the expectations for wage increases must be tempered.
Of course, this doesn't mean that only unionized staff must not earn an increase. The increases we've seen in management salaries at unaccountable organizations like Metro Vancouver have bordered on obscene. And I'm still not clear how management at Vancouver City Hall can negotiate unionized salaries, then automatically receive those same increases.
Short of a mayor and councillors getting booted out of office, there is no clear incentive to keep the cost of government in check, and try to break the whipsaw. Only when cities cooperate, as they have under the nearly extinct Metro Vancouver Labour Relations Bargaining Unit, do they stand a chance. A US academic even wrote a paper on the subject of standing up to whipsaw tactics.
In "The Influence of Cooperating School Districts in Defeating the Union Whipsaw" Peter Goerges writes:
Through the exchange of information and the development of solidarity within the ranks of school management, administrators can defeat union whipsaw tactics, whereby a union wins large concessions from one school district and uses these gains to pressure other districts to follow suit.
Take our own beloved BCTF, for example. During the NDP provincial government of the 1990s, the teacher's union lost district by district bargaining rights because of whipsawing. That's a right that the BCTF want BC Liberal Minister of Education George Abbott to give them back. Just look at how the 'TF have been negotiating in the media – B.C. teachers, they say, aren't getting paid as well as Alberta, Saskatchewan or even Finland educators! Zero & zero? They're not interested in what other unions got here.
By the way, it's my understanding that Mandate 2010 has a "me too" clause built into it. If the teachers get the double-digit pay increase they're hinting at, it will trigger similar increases for all other union agreements including those already ratified.
Back in Vancouver, now that the VPD have their 8.8% increase, you can be absolutely sure that the union leadership for inside, outside and library workers will be taking no chances. The CUPE locals for City workers will be feverishly working to get a good deal for themselves from Vision before the November election.
Funny thing though, the best deal the union ever got was under the previous NPA government. During this election year I can't see how the NPA will campaign on anything more than 2-year net zero increases to match the Province. How this can be done now that the police are getting a 2.5% increase after 2012? Sadly, it ain't gonna be easy.
- post by Mike. Follow @MikeKlassen and @CityCaucus on Twitter.