Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Monday, June 01, 2009

Explaining The CUPE Strike (Part I)


It was the usual.

First a phone call out of the blue asking if I would be available for lunch. Right away of course. Then an immediate knock on the door with my favourite military men escorting me to a limo for a drive somewhere out to a big house in the County.

It was the subject matter though that was the unusual part. Deep Throat did not want to discuss the border this time! His interest was the City/CUPE strike of all things. It was a shocker to me. Until I understood his explanation.

I will relate what happened as best as I can.
  • “Welcome BLOGMeister. How wonderful to see you again,” in Deep Throat’s most welcoming tone. “I am so glad that you could join me on such short notice.”

The usual group of military people was not there today---off sunning on a Great Lakes cruise on US Coast Guard ships because of the recent US-Canada Shiprider program is how it was described to me---so it was just the two of us.

  • “You seem so perplexed about the CAW involvement in the CUPE strike. You are very close to what is going on but you have not yet figured out where it is leading and why.”

Typical of Deep Throat. A backhanded compliment I thought.

I had Blogged that just as Sid Ryan had been accused of using Windsor to put the pressure on other cities for not cutting concessions, a similar argument could be made that our Mayor was fronting for other cities to deliver the message that AMO members were not giving in to CUPE demands.

I knew that CUPE Toronto workers held a strike vote recently although no strike date was set:

  • “Inside and outside city workers have given their unions strong mandates to go on strike this summer - raising the prospect of the first-ever co-ordinated municipal workers' strike in Toronto's decade-long history.

    On the weekend, Toronto's 18,000 inside workers gave their union, CUPE Local 79, a 90 per cent vote of support to call a strike. That vote came just days after the city's outside workers in CUPE Local 416 gave their leadership an 89 per cent strike mandate.

    The high numbers aren't a surprise, but the timing of the two votes is historic. In years past, the city has only faced strikes by one union at a time.

    This time, the unions are working together and will be meeting to co-ordinate any possible strike…

    We will be going back to the table with a clear message from the membership," he said. "The city must take its 118 pages of concessions off the table."

    The city last saw a municipal workers strike in 2002, nudging up against a papal visit. If workers go out on strike in 2009, it will be the first CUPE strike on Mayor David Miller's watch...

    On Monday, Miller maintained that the city won't be making any generous offers.

    "We're in the midst of negotiations and I won't negotiate in public, but we've said the city's in a difficult position this year. It's a year we're going to require restraint. In negotiating in good faith at the bargaining table, we're trying not only to reach a resolution that's fair to the workers but recognize the city's financial circumstances - particularly with the increases in welfare caseload. That puts a strain on the city budget."

In my usual stating the obvious manner, I said,

  • “It certainly looks like what may happen in Toronto has been foreshadowed in Windsor!”

  • “Of course you are correct.” As I almost fell out of my chair with this rare positive comment, Deep Throat continued, “I am sure that you saw the CBC.ca Headline:

    Windsor residents tidy up parks as city strike enters 7th week.”

    The interesting part was it was a “Toronto Headlines” story not a Windsor one! The strike theatre drama has now started there.

    You do know, as your Mayor has suggested, Toronto is 400 to 500 kilometres away.”

And with that, Deep Throat burst out laughing almost to the point of choking on his coffee!

  • “I cannot believe the hypocrisy. Using that logic, no wonder the border file is such a mess. The Mayor hired out of town consultants who live at least that distance away to advise him what to do with that file!”

And then Deep Throat started laughing again until tears came to his eyes.

  • “How does your newspaper let him get away with that. Mediation for Greenlink according to Eddie’s terms of reference but no arbitration for his own workers. Bizarre!”
  • Do you think I am correct about my speculation that the CAW wants to take over CUPE Windsor?” I asked. “Oh sure, the local CUPE Presidents were probably kept in the loop about the Mayor/Senior meeting. And of course, one can argue that it was CAW showing solidarity with CUPE. But still…”

My voice trailed off as I watched Deep Throat pulling out one of those Cuban cigars that he just loved smoking in a public place to annoy the Ontario Smoke Police.

  • “Well that could start a huge Union war but CAW has done that before. Remember the dispute with the Service Employees International Union. Why not go after CUPE too since they have a lot of workers in Canada who make good wages. Why it would be so nice for CAW to be able to add them since so many auto workers are out of a job or retired. It certainly would generate a lot of Union dues for CAW!”

    Consider a few hints and you may get your answer:

     Gary Parent, president of the Windsor and District Labour Council, has enlisted the support of thousands of CAW retirees to help pressure the mayor and city council to come to a deal with striking city workers and Veteran Taxi cabbies.

    Taking advantage of the CAW Local 444 local spring luncheon for retirees Wednesday, Parent urged the 1,600 in attendance to put pressure on Mayor Eddie Francis, council members and city administration to settle on both labour fronts.

    CAW may stop funding children's sports leagues if coaches, parents cut grass during strike

    WINDSOR, Ont. -- The CAW may stop sponsoring children’s sports leagues if coaches and parents take to the baseball diamonds and soccer fields with lawn mowers during the city workers’ strike.

    “We don’t have a habit of funding scab organizations,” said Gary Parent, secretary-treasurer of CAW Local 444.

     CAW president Ken Lewenza stormed out of a brief meeting with Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis at City Hall Friday because he felt an “angry” and intractable Francis lacked respect for unions and was personalizing the municipal strike after pickets targeted his home.

    Francis bristled at the suggestion he was personalizing the strike or dismissive of unions and the collective bargaining process…

    “What I don’t have respect for is somebody coming into my office of his position and telling me to F-Off in front of my staff.”

     Both sides in the nearly seven-week-old strike by city workers insist publicly they’re willing to get back to the table — so then do it, advises one of Windsor’s former larger-than-life labour bosses.

    “What’s stopping them? There is no such thing as can’t … this is affecting the whole city,” said Frank LaSorda, who celebrated his 80th birthday Saturday with family and a who’s who of Windsor’s labour community paying homage to a man who led United Auto Workers Local 444 during some tough economic times after the murder of legendary leader Charlie Brooks in 1977.”

     On Schnurr’s BLOG: First, it’s non-union employees that are trying to organize (we are not all management). Second, for the time being we have chosen to become an independent trade union. The CAW is providing assistance.

I thought I knew where he was heading with this

  • “Oh I get it. This sounds like the Lewenza “no concessions” approach and then make concessions so that you are described as pragmatic! Put on a tough front for the CUPE workers but get ready to step in to do the deal when needed or help facilitate one. In fact I saw a Letter to the Editor that said “Let Lewenza settle CUPE strike.”

Deep Throat chuckled with approval.

  • “You are getting quicker. That LaSorda Star story sure sounded like a Good cop/Bad cop routine to me.”

Then just as quickly, his mood changed to a more serious and somber one.

  • “Of course you understand that there is a lot more involved in this than the CUPE strike don’t you?”

(To be continued)