One has to wonder if some labour groups are in touch with the real world. Perhaps they are stuck somewhere in the distant past.
During my stay in the Vancouver area last week, the strike by Vancouver civic employees was very prominent in the news. Garbage is the biggest worry, according to the media; or is it? Much of the garbage collection and general waste management is handled by private companies. It is primarily the residential garbage pickup that is affected. The library employees, who are members of CUPE, have also walked out. Big deal; most people will just buy a book or two and get by very nicely. Building inspection is a minor bonanza to engineering companies and projects are not stopping. Builders are having their projects inspected and approved by professionals who are, quite frankly, more knowledgeable about building and electrical codes than the average civic inspector. They are actually far more qualified, in most cases, than those filling the civic positions.
The first night of fireworks over English Bay, left some garbage behind. Most people took their own garbage with them. There were also the usual unfeeling jerks that just dropped their garbage on the beach. In a rather nice civic gesture, all the people in a small landscaping company turned up at six in the morning to pick up the garbage that was left. Their motivation was to keep the beaches reasonably clean and safe for those who wished to enjoy them the next day. CUPE’s reaction was that there was no way they should have done that, because they were taking away from civic jobs. Almost all people interviewed said, “that’s stupid!”
Talk about lousy public relations. The comments from the CUPE leadership offended a lot of people who would have otherwise been sympathetic with the efforts of the workers. The comments about the stupid remarks made by CUPE leaders cut across all political lines. Most people, labour involved or not, thought the remarks were mean spirited. They understand that a withdrawal of services is one of the weapons employed in trying to reach a settlement, and appreciate that it is a right workers should have. What the general populace finds disgusting is the severe criticism of a group of people who only wanted to undertake a task that would benefit their city. They did so, without pay. Their only motivation was to participate in a selfless act. CUPE leadership needs to take Public Relations 101.
The other mystifying labour negotiation, and possible strike, is the Steelworkers (formally IWA) stance with the coastal forest industry. This sector of the British Columbian economy is in deep trouble. Demand for product is falling drastically and pricing is in the ditch. Mill and other closures have already occurred, and more are planned. The coastal forest manufacturing industry is noted for its poor productivity, thereby making them less competitive than the interior forest industry. It kind of makes you wonder if anybody is really using their brains. Here is an industry that has been making steady progress in a downward direction. The world has changed, but that does not seem to have registered with union members and their leaders. It is as simple as this: if a business is dropping money by the bucketful every day, does the management really care if they are shut down for a while?
Perhaps they are just stuck in the past. Change is ever with us and all of us have to adapt. We want strong companies and strong unions speaking for their workers.
We don’t need stupidity on the part of either. British Columbia has moved away from the almost constant labour unrest into a prosperous economy. We can only hope the Neanderthals do not take us back to the old days.
Victor Bowman was born in Vanderhoof and raised in Prince George. He returned to this city to live 32 years ago and currently operates a consulting business. Please direct comments c/o email@example.com