Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Vancouver City's failure to understand how to haggle with unionized workers means strike continues into third week

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Column
Tuesday August 7, 2007

Art of haggling


BRIAN: (as he puts down 20 shekels) There you are.

HARRY: Wait a moment.

BRIAN: What?

HARRY: We're supposed to haggle.

BRIAN: No, no, I've got to ...

HARRY: What do you mean, no?

- Monty Python's Life of Brian, 1979

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.


Anonymous said...

Sort of reminds me of when Lying Brian was PM and we were in our first strike in 18 or 19 years at the old Post office. He brought in scabs costing many more dollars an hour than the regular workers. The citizens across canada especialy Vancouver were very supportive of the union. Even the sort of right wing media guys and gals got on board. a grandmother Letter carrier was run over by a scam truck and was badly injured.Heck Brian got Hong Kong cops on the payroll to try to pressure everyone. Injuctions were everywhere. Brian lost big time and he was gone from politics not long after. Sam should wake up, see the support the unions are getting and NEGOTIATE a settlement. His days as mayor were limited even before the strike. DL

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Monty python - Perhaps mr Sullivan is related to the Knights who say NIT & wants a shrubbery before bargaining ?

Speaking of Monty python - Perhaps Mr Sullivan is trying to sell a dead parrot to the public .

Speaking of Monty python - Perhaps Mr Sullivan is trying to sell used leper parts to the public .

Speaking of Monty python - Perhaps Mr Sullivan has yet to realize he is the loony , in a game of spot the loony .

Steve dockeray
Milner bc

Anonymous said...

The main job of the Greater Vancouver Regional District's Labour Relations Bureau (GVRDLRB) is to help the employers implement policy and settle grievances - The GVRDLRB has little or no expertise in negotiating. Negotiating is a different animal altogether from managing and arbitrations.

CUPE brought in an experienced negotiator (Keith Graham) as they recognized that they lacked the in house capability needed to do the job (who needs a full time negotiator when you only bargain every 2-4 years?).

The good news is that the parties are still at the table and the media blackout is holding so some sort of progress is being made - however slowly.

Budd Campbell said...

I really can't see this strike as a result of simple incompetence or accidental bungling on the part of the Mayor and the City administration. They just cannot be that inept.

The only plausible explanation is that their apparent failures and missteps are intentional. They want this strike for political reasons, and they want it to last a while.

Look for them to suddenly understand the mechanics of negotiations when the needle on their public opinion meter tells them that their hardcore anti-labour vote is satisfied that the City's workers have been punished enough, and the larger general public is not yet too upset by the loss of services.

Anonymous said...

I don't agree with Budd on this one. No one has written columns supporting the Mayor and his ham fisted approach. I ny view he knows what the people are thinking and is working on a exit stategy. The Unions were very strong in thier votes and will be prepared to stay out longer in required. the provicne says they won't get involved( Make that Gordon). The Labour Minister has no clues about her job. Keep talking folks and as there is a news black out, we will all know when this thing breaks. DL

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Monty Python - I nominate Mayor Sam as 'UCTOTY' (Upper Class Twit Of The Year)!

Anonymous said...

A fellow we know who happens to work in Vancouver and is now on strike tells us. Sam managed to wave the Olympic Flag for a photo op but beyond that he seems pretty useless. A lot of folks seem to have the same opinion. DL

Anonymous said...

With due respect to Keith Graham, a blind man could look like a superstar negotiator when put up against this mob. Jerry "Double Baloney" has done a terrible job at putting the city's position forward in any kind of a positive light. Fact is, you can't put lipstick on a pig, especially one as ugly as those who devised the so called strategy for the City of Vancouver.

Vision Vancouver must be just itching to get to November 2008 and turf the NPA out on their asses again. And Sam "Johnnie Walker Black... straight from the bottle" Sullivan is looking more and more like a one term boob, and Ladner must be just wanting so bad to take over the NPA, before they find themselves back in the 2002 to 2005 era.

Unknown said...

enuf BS already! they're all clearly incompetent. binding arbitration and legislate a deal. end of story. yeah, like THAT'S gonna happen. (not).

any civic worker who thinks they should get a 30% wage increase is clearly delusional.

*sigh* i'm frankly finding it quite boring being held hostage by a bunch of idiots who are lustfully pursuing their power orgasms at the exclusion of any reason and logic.

Anonymous said...

August 9, 2007 - Paul Foaro, CUPE 15 President. "Last time we met with this employer they spent 2 hours and 22 minutes out of two days actually meeting with us." This time, it’s worse. "Out of a possible six days, we spent 4 hours and 13 minutes with the employer."


Anonymous said...

" i'm frankly finding it quite boring being held hostage by a bunch of idiots who are lustfully pursuing their power orgasms at the exclusion of any reason and logic."

If that's the case, then call Silent Sam the Mayor and give him some grief. It seems that the unions want to do a deal, but the city wants to save $$$ by not having YOUR garbage picked up, YOUR city hall not open for business, YOUR community centres, swimming pools and ice rinks behind the picket lines.

Take a look around at the rest of the cities that have settled. Pretty much, for the same 5 year 17.5 percent agreement, with subtle differences on municipal issues (what goes on in surrey doesn't necessarily occur in richmond).

In collective bargaining, it takes two to do a deal. The union seems quite willing to get what the rest of the cities have settled for. So my question is why doesn't Silent Sam and the band of misfits known as the NPA get off their asses and tell their so called professional bargainers to settle out for what the region has accepted.

The answer lies in the fact that Sam Sullivan is a moronic buffoon, a caricature in the light of Monty Python's Black Knight. And if not for the people who couldn't differentiate between JIM GREEN and JAMES GREEN at the polls, probably wouldn't be where he is. Every mayor in the region has sat down and worked out deals with CUPE. But the Johnnie Walker Poster Child can't see the forest through the trees.

As someone who doesn't support the NPA, I hope that Sullivan runs for Mayor in the next election. What a fine example of his ability to lead he's shown in this dispute.

The Red Mantissa also said...
"any civic worker who thinks they should get a 30% wage increase is clearly delusional." Two things about that one. First of all, clearly you have no idea how collective bargaining works. You have a starting position and work towards an agreed end position. One party puts out a number, the other party counters etc. I would bet that 30% was not the union's last best and final offer.

My second point is, even if it were, they are not asking for anything that the city managers haven't already received. 23 of them at the table navel gazing, the majority making 6 digit incomes. If I were you, I would direct your anger at the right people causing this mayhem... and its not CUPE.

opinionator777 said...

can anybody tell me the history of the Greater Vancouver Regional District's Labour Relations Bureau (GVRDLRB) and what they're all about?