Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The "Rodney Dangerfield" Strike

I support unions, because it benefits both the employer and the employee to bargain collectively.
But to continue to be effective, unions have to deserve respect -- particularly, for public sector unions, from the public. This 3-month Vancouver strike has now passed irrational and is moving toward ridiculous.
I have been involved in several strikes over the years, and even a two-week strike is tough. I can't imagine what it would be like to walk a picket line for 12 weeks, with no end in sight and facing mortgage payments and car loans and school fees.
Certainly union members have to support each other, but they also have to get some results from their union leadership. Reading the stories about the recent vote, I begin to wonder if these union leaders are going to break their own unions because of their intransigence.
Now the inside workers have voted to go back, but the leadership of the outside workers urged members to vote against a settlement for some piss-poor reasons:
For the 1,800 outside workers the sticking points were overtime, grievance language and the city's ability to contract out their work.
"It's not money," said Dave Van Dyke, a member of CUPE 1004's bargaining committee.
"It's about mostly language. A couple of non-monetary items. Something like overtime shift language."
Sounds pretty blase, doesn't he? Apparently the workers have construction industry jobs now anyway, so they're not suffering:
Many outside employees feel little pressure to accept the Foley package because they have found employment in the construction industry
And they apparently don't care whether the people of Vancouver can use their parks or playgrounds, or get their streets cleaned. And they don't care that some of the inside workers will be kept off the job because of picketing at common job sites. The attitude seems to be, I've got mine, Jack, so screw you!
In a fever of solidarity, the library workers also voted to stay out -- but the library staff are the group of civic workers that could find themselves out in the cold for a long, long time. I worry that this could be one of those strikes where, sometime next spring, somebody says "Oh, are the library workers STILL out? I'd forgotten."
Basically, and with apologies to the librarians I know, libraries fall into the category of 'nice-to-have', not 'need-to-have' -- once the building permits are being issued again and the garbage is being picked up, the strike will be just a bad memory for most of the people in Vancouver even if the library workers are still picketing.
And maybe this strike won't even be remembered much. Vancouver Sun columnist Miro Cernetig sums up the attitude:
This civic strike has hardly proven the urban disaster that many anticipated. In fact, it has made a lot of people start to wonder about just what they are paying for in that ever-rising tax bill that arrives every spring from city hall . . . Yes, there have been inconveniences this summer. You can't check out a book from the library. You've got to learn a few new urban survival techniques to keep your backyard from stinking up . . . The flow of permits from city hall is at a crawl. . . . But the take home message so far from this summer's strike is that Vancouverites have proven surprisingly adept at making do with less city government. We haven't, despite the warnings, reached some tipping point that will shut the city down.
An ineffective strike ultimately results in making public sector unions weaker -- they don't get no respect.

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