Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Thursday, July 16, 2009

How Should CUPE Members Vote

In this matter, ironically, for CUPE, NO means YES!

CUPE members really have no choice in my opinion. They must vote NO and reject the City's offer. Overwhelmingly!

Or, to show some strategic thinking for once, the CUPE leaders should offer the option to their members to refuse to vote at all since the offer is unacceptable to them. They should call Eddie's bluff and force Eddie to have the Ministry supervise the vote to satisfy the democratic right of their members who may want to vote YES.

Consider this...the CUPE offered vote is a freebie and a gift to the Mayor. Eddie gets to learn the strength or weakness of CUPE at no risk. If the vote is say, 55% NO, then Eddie just needs to squeeze a bit more and he has won. Why give up this information for no reason at all and just destroy your own position!

Eddie always likes to threaten but never carries out his threats in the face of a strong opponent. He likes fighting weakness. Let him put his neck on the line rather than be given a freebie vote! He won't do it because he knows he would lose. The people of Windsor need to see how weak he is as with the Greenlink threats.

I well understand that it is completely presumptuous of me to tell CUPE members what to do. I am not suffering as they are. I am not risking losing my job completely if the Mayor gets into a pique because someone dared oppose him. Yet, I can stand back since I am not involved in the day-to-day struggle and perhaps see what they cannot right now. I might be able to offer a perspective that they have not thought of for their consideration.

It is voting day for CUPE members. And a lot more is riding on what they do than just settling this strike in Windsor.

The two Windsor CUPE locals are the "canaries in the coalmine" as our Mayor likes to use that expression. No wonder our strike has received so much attention. From Toronto, especially at first.

What will happen here is merely the start of what will happen elsewhere. In fact, it has already begun. Perhaps nothing that happens here will make a bit of difference whatsoever in the big picture. But then again, maybe it will since workers, even non-union ones, need a major union around whom they can gather now that CAW has been decimated by Governments.

Did you have the impression as I did that the CAW was now more interested in preserving itself as a union than worrying about the taxidrivers' strike:
  • “Yes, I am upset with the union,” El-Moussaoui said outside the CAW Local 195 union hall.

    “If they could not get us a better deal, why did we go on strike for over 100 days...”

    “Huge gains,” Farnham said. “At the end of the day, my opinion is that this is a victory.”

    CAW national president Ken Lewenza attended the ratification meeting to address the membership and praise CAW Local 195.

    Asked if he sensed any decrease in support for the union, Lewenza replied: “No, not at all.”

So what, I have a mortgage to pay, bills are overdue and my family and I like eating is something a CUPE member is entitled to say. Fighting the good fight for someone else is very noble in theory but it hurts when you are the individual actually impacted.

Is there a way to deliver a message on both issues, the drive to crush public service unions and to force CUPE members to capitulate on benefits they were given in the past.

Before anyone gets too smart, remember that this strike is NOT CUPE's fault. There is another agenda at play that we have not yet completely uncovered. If we use the example of the Windsor Public Library as a more enlightened approach to collective bargaining with similar issues over PRBs, then the City and Union should have discussed key issues years ago and not let it come to this mess. Perhaps this is why the Mayor has been so anti-Library. They provide an example of co-operation, not confrontation. He looks bad by comparison.

It is the CITY that passed a bylaw granting benefits to CUPE members and to the Mayor and Council too. As to Council members now and newly elected, they will still have their PRBs thanks to the Mayor's Motion and the self-interest of certain Councillors. When it comes to keeping what they have and getting Board fees to up their salaries dramatically every year or to taking trips at taxpayer expense, I do not see the Mayor and Council being shy about holding their hands out to receive more!

As to fiscal responsibility, is Eddie and Council any different than the CEO of the former GM and its Board? Unfortunately, we do not have the right to fire: the right of recall does not exist in Ontario's legislation!

Under our Mayor's watch, in the City's terms although they are not comparable, the unfunded liability went from $170M to $290M in only a few very short years. The economic consequences are so similar to the other financial fiasco, the WUC rates!

What did the Mayor and Council do about this for so many years other than to let it grow out of control and now the CUPE members have to take the hit so S&P can tell investors that Windsor's bond rating should not be cut.

What have they to gain by voting in favour of Eddie's counter-offer? Very little. We already know that both Jim and Jean do not like it with Jim already saying that he would recommend rejection. By knuckling under now, they merely open themselves up to more bargaining during the collective agreement period as in other cities. Moreover, we know that the City's next move will be lay-offs and the hiring of more part-time and temp employees.

Why not deliver the message now? Why be forced into another strike again down the road or unilateral City action with the UNION powerless to act on the members' behalf after this loss!

The Casino workers rejected a Casino offer years ago and now the taxi drivers did too. The accepted offer that was made subsequently was better than the one rejected even though the CAW leaders in both cases first recommended acceptance. Their members said NO!

Wouldn't that have to happen in this case? Something better and fairer would have to be offered by Eddie to gain acceptance. Eddie would not dare force a vote through the Labour Ministry since he would lose. I am not a labour law lawyer so I do not know what other tricks the Mayor could have up his sleeve but the CUPE lawyers should know and should be guiding the local CUPE branches.

However, and it is a real risk, Eddie could try and take away more to really put the screws on.

The ultimate would be to fire the workers if they did not return to work by a certain date and seek replacements. Do the Mayor and Council have the guts to do that? The answer is yes in the face of weakness but not if CUPE remains strong.

Eddie is not President Reagan and this is not the air traffic controllers strike. They were fired because they were involved in an illegal strike, not a lawful one. City Hall would be declaring war on the Labour Movement and not even the Premier would help him out. I am not sure that Eddie is quite ready to commit political suicide if he still wishes to run for office at whatever level.

To vote NO, does not mean the end of the world. It does mean getting respect for themselves after so many weeks and for public unions generally again.

I expect that the Unions would only be out several weeks more PROVIDED their leadership gets off their asses and starts pressuring City Hall. That is absolutely fundamental and the UNION leadership must agree to a strong course of action in front of their members. If not, then CUPE members should vote YES because continuing on without it would be a loser! There would be no pressure on City Hall to bargain at all to reach a reasonable resolution.

The Mayor and Council have had a free ride from CUPE for much too long. Strong and decisive action is needed by the CUPE leaders or else the workers may be out for months more . Let me repeat again some of the steps that I believe ought to be taken along with a major CUPE PR effort to win back Windsorites:

1) demand that the OLRB hearing on bad faith bargaining start up again now

2) demand the results of the City's internal investigation into the leak and that of the Integrity Commissioner

3) hire a forensic accountant to audit the City's books as the Mayor promised he would allow

4) get a legal opinion about suing for back pay as part of the OLRB case or separately

5) start a class action lawsuit over the PRBs

6) get a legal opinion about the Mayor's recent statements and whether they are actionable

7) point the finger of blame at the Mayor

8) remind Council that the next municipal election is coming up soon

Most importantly, recognize that Eddie is becoming irrelevant now. If the vote is a NO, he has lost his power. No wonder he is driving so hard and pressuring to have the vote. He must have it now or he is done.

The true power would then reside in Queen's Park with the Premier, Sandra and Dwight. CUPE has no choice but to pressure them now to pass back-to-work legislation or face the loss of two seats in Windsor! Simple as that. Nothing like having 1800 dedicated CUPE employees along with friends and family to scare a politican/Cabinet Minister or two!

Voting YES is easy. Voting NO means YES for more financial hardship, YES for more abuse from their employer, YES for more attacks by the Star and its columnists, YES for more citizen animosity.

Only people who are directly impacted as the CUPE members have been for almost 3 months can know how this all feels and only they can make the decision which in their hearts and minds is the right one.

There is no doubt that, due to the mismangement of the unfunded liabilities, the lack of economic diversification with a non-functioning Undevelopment Commission and the economic setback suffered by this City in mishandling matters like the border file, the City and CUPE will have to talk about their contract again sooner than later as in Mississauga. In the end, wouldn't it be better for CUPE to negotiate from a position of strength and equality that a NO vote would give them!

Before an election, they can overpower the politicians. Sandra and Dwight are very vulnerable. If CUPE only will remember that and use that to their advantage.

I would hate to be in the position of a CUPE member. Can you imagine the pressure before the meeting as the rumours swirl, being fed by parties who are not completely disinterested!

I can only wish them well in their deliberations. Whatever they ultimately choose is the right decision for them and should not be second-guessed.