Tuesday August 7, 2007
Art of haggling
By BILL TIELEMAN
BRIAN: (as he puts down 20 shekels) There you are.
HARRY: Wait a moment.
HARRY: We're supposed to haggle.
BRIAN: No, no, I've got to ...
HARRY: What do you mean, no?
As we enter the third week of a strike by Vancouver civic workers, the dispute has taken on the air of a Monty Python comedy skit.
That's because Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan, city managers and the Greater Vancouver Regional District's Labour Relations Bureau all don't seem to understand the purpose of negotiations.
You have to haggle - it's actually true. With both sides bargaining and moving closer together, you eventually reach a deal.
Unfortunately, the employer and its representatives have continued to screw up what should be an easy deal to end the civic workers strike.
After all, now that striking workers in North Vancouver District have ratified a deal and Surrey, Delta, Richmond and Burnaby have all settled without any strikes, only Vancouver is left so far incapable of negotiating a contract with city employees.
And that is incomprehensible.
Here's the only sensible explanation of the problem - no one on the management side has ever seen Life of Brian. They just don't understand haggling.
The city's spokesman, Jerry Dobrovolny, told the media last week that Vancouver would not table a new offer to CUPE Local 15 but instead wanted the union to make a more "reasonable" offer than the one it presented previously - which included a wage and benefit increase the city claimed would cost 30 per cent.
So the city rejected CUPE 15's proposal for settlement. That's totally fair game as part of negotiations.
But to then ask the union for another proposal that was more "reasonable" is simply not on. It was Vancouver's turn to respond. That's Negotiations 101 - offer, counteroffer, bargain.
What you can't do is keep saying: "Not good enough, try again."
It doesn't work that way. Vancouver should have responded with its own version of what it thinks is reasonable - even if it antagonized the unions - who would then have to reply again.
It's not complicated. You go back and forth until the contract is reached, something that unions and employers do without any strike or lockout 98 per cent of the time in bargaining.
And let's face it - anyone can figure out Vancouver's city workers are going to get some variation of the contract reached in Richmond, Delta, Surrey, Burnaby and North Vancouver District.
So Sullivan, his Non-Partisan Association council majority and the GVRD's Labour Relations Bureau could have avoided all of this inconvenience to citizens and expense by workers and businesses affected by the strike with just a little bargaining common sense.
And a lot of haggling.