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The Windsor Star
Thu Jun 11 2009
Byline: Sid Ryan
Column: Sid Ryan
Source: Special to The Windsor Star
There are times in life where the best thing to do is for everyone to take a step back.
Here in Windsor, this is one of those times.
After more than two months on the picket lines, municipal workers and the City of Windsor negotiators remain deadlocked at the bargaining table, to no one’s benefit. Neither the city nor CUPE have been able to work out these differences, and residents are rightly fed up.
Clearly, the time has come to step back and allow a fresh set of eyes to look over the city’s and CUPE’s respective positions and point a way forward for both parties.
That is why CUPE has asked for an independent, third-party arbitrator to resolve the dispute. While this solution is never the ideal option, there are moments in labour relations where it is called for. In our view, this is one of those rare moments.
The reality is that collective bargaining results in a negotiated settlement over 90 per cent of the time. Labour and management work out their differences at the bargaining table with no disruption. Strikes and lockouts can occur, but they tend to be settled quickly, as prolonged disputes are rarelyif everin either side’s best interests. In extremely rare cases, perhaps one in 100, the right thing to do is for the deadlocked parties to put their respective bargaining positions before an arbitrator.
And so we find ourselves here. Two elements of the city’s bargaining positiona two-tier benefit system for future workers and net zero’the notion that any gains workers make be offset by concessions elsewherewould each be considered strike issues individually. That the city put both forward in a single round of negotiations has proved disastrous. That it is happening in Windsor, the cradle of Canadian industrial unionism, is a sad symptom of a broader push to preserve an economic system that has failed workers miserably on a global scale.
Sadder still is the cynical use of this dispute to pit worker against worker, public sector against private sector, employed against unemployed. Depending on your vantage point, a divide and conquer’ strategy might garner a few more votes or sell a few extra newspapers, but it also conveniently avoids asking harder questions about how our economy got into this mess in the first place, and why workerswhether from Chrysler or the Corporation of the City of Windsorought to be the ones who pay the price for the mistakes of Big Business and their friends in government.
Perhaps there will be a time to ask those hard questions, but this is not the time for that discussion or to continue attacking working people. Right now, Windsor needs to get back to work. Now is the time for arbitration.
While not ideal, arbitration represents a way forward. It gets our members back to work immediately while the arbitrator reviews our respective positions and decides where, within those positions, a reasonable settlement exists. Contrary to what has been stated by Mayor Francis and echoed on the Star’s editorial pages, arbitration does not inherently favour labour over management. Rather, it is a quasi-judicial process that relies on precedent, case law and most importantly, impartiality.
To suggest otherwise is to essentially suggest Canada’s entire industrial relations system is tilted in favour of organized labour. While this is a novel argument, any working man or woman who has ever found themselves on the receiving end of employer intimidation for signing a union card, had to endure watching others taking away their livelihoods while on strike or watch their work get outsourced to some far-off place to provide shareholders with a few extra pennies per share, would likely disagree with such a worldview.
Despite the risk of having to accept a settlement unfavourable to its members, Locals 82 and 543 agree arbitration points us out of this impasse, a position wholeheartedly endorsed by CUPE Ontario and CUPE National. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do under these particular circumstances. The only obstacle left to our members returning to their jobs lies deep in City Hall. There have been no negotiations now for two weeks, and none on the horizon. We can only speculate that the City of Windsor’s bargaining committee has no mandate to negotiate with us.
As always, we remain available to resume negotiations at a moment’s notice, but in the absence of negotiations, we are prepared to put our faith in the legal process.
Is it too much to ask for the City of Windsor to do the same?
Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)
Telephone: (416) 209-0066