New West-CUPE deal could set tone for Burnaby negotiations

The City of New Westminster has a new contract with its unionized staff after the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 387 ratified the four-year deal with 97 per cent support.

The agreement, the first in Greater Vancouver, runs from Jan. 1, 2012 to Dec. 31, 2015 and includes wage increases totalling 6.75 per cent over that time—1.25 per cent in 2012, 1.75 per cent  in each of 2013 and 2014 and 2 per cent in 2015.

The deal is expected to have an impact on contract talks across Metro Vancouver, including Burnaby, said Burnaby's deputy city manager Chad Turpin.

"I think any contract settled has a tremendous influence on the rest of what goes on."

The New Westminster contract is a "huge difference" from the last deal, negotiated for most of the region by Metro Vancouver, noted Turpin. That agreement, which expired Dec. 31, 2011, was for a total 17.5 per cent over five years.

"The economic times are a lot different now than they were five, six years ago."

Like New Westminster, this will be the first time in decades that Burnaby will negotiate directly with CUPE instead of going through Metro Vancouver's (formerly known as the Greater Vancouver Regional District, or GVRD) Labour Relations Bureau.

For years, the bureau has conducted bargaining on behalf of most of the region's municipalities which ensured consistency from one city to the next.

But Burnaby and other cities opted out after the process got bogged down in 2007 due to the bureau's insistence on a 39-month term, which would end just after the 2010 Winter Olympics, to prevent a strike during the event. That stalemate led to a lengthy strike in the City of Vancouver.

Richmond, which did not negotiate through the GVRD, was the first to reach the five-year deal back then, which formed the basis for the Burnaby agreement. At the time, CUPE Local 23 president Rick Kotar told the NewsLeader that GVRD representatives were present in the room during the final talks, but only as observers.

With the decision to go it alone this time around, Burnaby city hall has something of a learning curve to deal with, said Turpin.

CUPE has yet to request a start to negotiations and "we have not even got to the stage of deciding who is going to bargain on the city's behalf."

Complicating matters is the fact the two senior members of the city's human resources department are leaving. Human resources director Kim Munro is retiring and assistant director Susan Bahry is moving on to the City of Abbotsford, where she'll be their new director of human resources, said Turpin, noting Burnaby will start advertising those two job openings soon.

Kotar said in an interview Tuesday that CUPE Local 23 expects to be at the  negotiation table with Burnaby city hall sometime in early October.

While he had yet to examine New Westminster's contract in detail, Kotar said wage and term are not the only issues for the members of his local. A number of issues they also want to address include job security and better seniority language.

• The union representing Burnaby firefighters, Local 323 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, negotiates its contract separately from that of CUPE, explained Turpin.

This will be the last time Burnaby will negotiate its firefighters' contract through Metro Vancouver. Burnaby is among several Lower Mainland cities awaiting arbitration for a contract to cover 2011 and 2012, after the last contract expired at the end of 2010.


Regional bargaining in place for at least 40 years

For the first time in recent memory, Burnaby and a number of Greater Vancouver municipalities are breaking from the Metro Vancouver Labour Relations Bureau to negotiate with their unions directly

Burnaby's deputy city manager Chad Turpin doesn't know when the city began negotiating its CUPE contracts through Metro Vancouver, but he has a vivid recollection of the regional system being in place for at least the 40 years he's worked at Burnaby city hall.

Turpin said when he was hired in March 1972 as an internal auditor for Burnaby, he asked to start after the end of April so he could help with the tax season at the firm for which he was articling as a chartered accountant.

On Sunday, April 30, he took his wife to city hall to show her where he'd be working.

On Monday, May 1, he showed up for his first day on the job.

The city employees, Turpin included, went out on strike.

"They went out for seven weeks, the entire Lower Mainland. Even then, everybody was in on the same deal," he said with a laugh.

"So I was out on strike for seven weeks before I even set foot in the door."

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