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January 19, 2015

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A reality check for the neo-con set

Municipal wages withstand negative Fraser Institute 'spin'

In November, thousands of British Columbians put their names forward to run as city councillors, board of education trustees, or regional district representatives. Congratulations to them all.

CUPE locals engaged as they always do in talking to candidates and getting involved in the political process. We are up front and open about our involvement in local elections.

But we saw other factors at play by those who were not as open. For instance, just ahead of the Union of BC Municipalities annual meeting in September, a report commissioned by the B.C. government that was highly critical of local government wages and salaries was “leaked” by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, who also contributed to the report.

I said at the time that the report represents a direct assault on the autonomy of elected municipal councils, with its recommendation for the establishment of a provincial body to control compensation levels and conduct bargaining with civic employees.

After the report was shamelessly flogged by Black Press columnist Tom Fletcher, appearing in many community papers, we responded in kind.

Consider the source

We know that the report relies almost entirely on information supplied by a narrow set of interests, including the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Business Council of British Columbia, the Independent Contractors and Business Association, and the Fraser Institute—all groups dedicated to suppressing wages.

We noted that Rhona Martin, president of the UBCM, which represents almost every local government in B.C., was not even consulted despite the potentially significant implications of the report’s recommendations.  

If Mr. Fletcher had spoken to Ms. Martin, or even read the UBCM statement, he would have found that the provincial report acknowledges 26 times that there are limitations in the data to support analysis of municipal pay. Ms. Martin and the UBCM noted that compensation for police and fire fighters, and even BC Ferries and TransLink, is lumped in – even though local governments have no control over compensation for these groups.

The myth of "runaway wages"

On Mr. Fletcher’s key target – CUPE’s wage settlements – the fact is that, over the last decade, these wage settlements with local governments have tended to mirror those negotiated in the private sector. And counter to the spin of runaway wage costs, B.C.’s statistics agency data shows that both CUPE and private sector agreements have been lower than the growth in the province’s wealth (Gross Domestic Product) and lower than the increase in average weekly wages for the province as a whole.

With community elections over and a new set of elected representatives in place for the next four years, it will be critical to make sure that they understand the real facts about their employees’ wage costs.

Mark Hancock is President of CUPE BC, representing 85,000 workers in communities across BC.