Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Vancouver newspaper columnists, editorials get facts wrong in trash talking CUPE Vancouver workers over strike

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Column

Tuesday October 16, 2007

Papers missed the strike facts


Many a good newspaper story has been ruined by over verification.

- James Gordon Bennett

There is a lot of garbage left around town from the end of the Vancouver city workers' strike - too bad so much of it was printed in newspapers.

Those who insist on trash-talking workers should at least get their facts straight, but apparently that's asking too much.

Or maybe some columnists are simply suffering amnesia about why and when the strike got "personalized," strangely forgetting Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan's lead role.

My friend Mike Smyth in the Province railed that: "The labour movement chose to personalize their attacks on Sullivan from Day 1."

And the Vancouver Sun's Pete McMartin opined that the Canadian Union of Public Employees gained momentum: "by its clever, and unfair, campaign of painting this as 'Sam's Strike.'"

Wait a minute, guys! Who said the strike was "not his top priority"? Sullivan.

Who said that CUPE's goal was to "disrupt" the 2010 Olympics with a strike, without any basis whatsoever? Sullivan.

Who said the contract term had to be 39 months or else? Sullivan.

Who wrongly said CUPE had rejected a possible five-year deal? Sullivan.

Who got the Labour Relations Board to force workers to vote on a "final offer" that their bargaining team had already strongly rejected? Sullivan.

It was only after these repeated insults that CUPE workers began calling it Sam's Strike, and with good reason.

The mayor went out of his way to take an unhelpful public role in the strike - if city workers named it Sam's Strike it's because they were repeatedly belittled by Sullivan.

So they plastered "Sam's" stickers over the "On" part of their "On Strike" signs to make them read "Sam's Strike."

Then there's my 24 hours colleague Erin Airton's suggestion, along with other right wingers, that privatizing garbage collection would solve any future inconveniences.

Wrong again. Private garbage companies are also unionized and could also face a strike or lockout their employees, which would mean - ta-dah - no trash pickup.

Lastly, others were outraged that the outside workers - CUPE Local 1004 - require contracts be ratified by a two-thirds majority.

A "mockery of democracy" Don Cayo fumed in the Sun. "Common sense, maturity missing" a Sun editorial lectured.

Hmmm. When B.C. held a 2005 referendum on a new electoral system it required not one but two super majorities - over 60 per cent of all voters in favour and over 60 per cent of all 79 provincial constituencies voting over 50 per cent yes. It failed the first test despite a 57 per cent yes vote.

So if a union's members democratically decide that they need a strong majority vote in favour to ratify contracts, I say big deal.

And if you want to trash talk, get it right.


Anonymous said...

Good article. Further, it is apparent through all this that Sam feels his only comfortable position in running in the next election is to make it a “Me or the Union” campaign. What is so disturbing is the citizens of Vancouver had to endure an unnecessarily prolong strike so Sam could get his front page headline of today. It is important that coalition building and the search for an acceptable candidate begin today to defeat Sullivan. A good early campaign strategy may get the NPA officials concerned about an election with Sam at their head and remove him for us.


stephen elliott-buckley said...

next, i expect to hear mayor sam say he's a uniter, not a divider.

Anonymous said...

Bill you forget the Radio hosts who say they respect Unions and then blame the strike on them. It is always the unions fault nurses teachers ferry workers but never the government. Especially the guy who claims to be balanced on NW mornings.

Gung Haggis said...

Thank you Bill Tieleman for exposing the lapses of journalists who succumbed to all the "strike myths" propogated by Mayor Sam, the City and it's media spin doctors.

Did the people who advised Mayor Sam on his Olympic spin also advise him that the next Vancouver civic election will be him vs the unions? A true leader would recognize that he is Mayor to every citizen in the city - not just the 47.3% of the voters.

Who controls the media and why did they write the stories / editorials they did - is a good question.

The city of Vancouver is the biggest contributor to the GVRD/Metro Labour Relations Bureau that represented the city bargaining committees. GVRD/Metro LRB hired the high priced public relations firm The Wilcox Group.

It's interesting that the Wilcox Group's clients include BCTV/CHEK TV/Can West Global Communications and Pacific Newspaper Group (Vancouver Sun and The Province).

But it was the creative and community minded library workers that created bicycle pickets, puppet shows, author readings, knitting for the homeless, Word on the Strike Fair, and many videos to promote their cause - that inspired stories in the Georgia Straight, 24 Hours, Metro such as the Globe & Mail's "Library workers picket with pizazz"

see the brilliant video about The Wilcox Group vs Pay Equity at

+ "Wage & Term" a comparison of Bobby Burnaby vs Vicky Vancouver

Anonymous said...

I wholly agree with your comments about Sam and the strike because it is clear to me that someone (or 'someones') at the City chose to personalize Union negotiations and made this round of bargaining an enhanced version of 'us' against 'them'.

Sam is continuing to blame CUPE for picking on him and the City negotiators’ lack of respect for their workers (the Union) fostered the use of their position of power and money to get a deal they wanted.

These juvenile attitudes propagated the strike and ultimately cost the public and employees because the City was determined to 'win' at any price. However, an employer that refuses to negotiate in ‘good faith’ should immediately be slapped with a ruling that they change their attitude or face binding arbitration.

It’s sad the City couldn't take their cue from other municipalities that had mayors and managers who felt they could afford to provide reasonable wage and benefit increases. Rather, the other settlements served to anger the City because they knew they’d have to match the wage offer, which was not in their plans, and to strengthen their resolve not to give in on other things.

In negotiations neither side gets everything they want, and if you want to know why the strike lasted so long, take a good, long, hard look at the facts as they unfolded. Those in positions of power and money and who are pigheaded appear to be able to holdout the longest.