The City of Vancouver’s settlement last weekend with its biggest union is certainly a long way from what we saw in the last collective agreement. That’s when CUPE 15 and the rest of the city’s civic unions — except for the cops — agreed to a five-year deal worth 17.5 per cent after a three-month strike.
This time, with world economies on shaky ground and more cuts coming to the size of the city’s workforce through the shared services review, there was no appetite for a strike let alone expectations of double-digit wage increases.
So the union bargaining team accepted a four-year deal where wage increases total 6.75 per cent; that, by the way, is less than projected inflation.
Circumstances were much different in 2007. For one thing, Vancouver was part of a regional bargaining unit, which excluded Surrey and Richmond.
The 2007 deal was as rich as it was because much of the region wanted to ensure labour peace during the 2010 Winter Olympics.
To the regional bargainers’ annoyance, the pattern for the settlement was set by Richmond, while Vancouver and the other municipalities dithered and then-Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan along with his incompetent senior management provoked a strike here. Since then, with Burnaby and Vancouver pulling out, the regional bargaining structure has collapsed.
For Vancouver, membership was strategically limiting. It meant giving up control at the main bargaining table plus Vancouver was paying more than $1 million a year to support the central organization that served mostly municipalities so small they lacked the capacity to bargain with their own unions.
Richmond and Surrey, on the other hand, were getting the benefit of sitting at a regional table where, while they couldn’t vote, they could gain from the collective wisdom of the other municipalities, such as it was.
Technically, that has all changed now, although collaboration continues. CUPE locals across the region continue to coordinate efforts amongst themselves and, as we saw this year, they selected one of the softest targets to go after first. In this case, it was New Westminster.
This is not to say the management side of the table is without its resources. It’s no secret that senior municipal managers throughout the region were working out their own position in terms of a settlement
In this case, New Westminster set the pattern in a deal it reached with CUPE 387 last August. While CUPE 15 may have started out asking for more and Vancouver management would have wanted to offer less, deviating from the pattern by either side would have created serious headaches.
So, as far as the money goes, the Vancouver settlement exactly mirrors New Westminster: 1.25 per cent in the first year, 1.75 per cent in the following two years and two per cent in the final year.
Where the contracts differ is in the “language.”
This includes terms for holidays, sick time, overtime, promotions and health benefits. Those issues in themselves can have significant dollar impact on the cost of the collective agreement.
For example, in the CUPE 15 agreement, the union has made concessions that provide a wider window of services. These concessions will allow building inspectors to work on Saturdays and licence inspectors to check out bars on Friday nights without the city incurring overtime costs.
Finally, while the city would have preferred a less costly settlement, when the 2012 budget was set by council earlier this year, you can bet that buried in that $1.2 billion document was a provision for a wage increase.
I have been assured that the city will not have to impose a further tax increase to pay for the first year increase of 1.25 per cent retroactive to Jan. 1, 2012.
Do not, however, expect the city to boast about how they cut a sharp deal that is good for the taxpayers, at least not until the union members ratify the agreement on Nov. 6.