Oct 16, 2013

Prince George facing challenges and opportunities

Since my election as your president last April, I’ve been trying to spend as much time as I can out on the road across BC meeting members in the communities where they live.

Last week I had the opportunity to travel to Prince George, where I met with local presidents and executives from Prince George and Quesnel. It was great to spend time with activists and members and hear from them firsthand the challenges they face.

I also spoke to media outlets in Prince George.  While they were focused more on the status of bargaining with the city, we also touched on issues that have the potential to affect all our sectors, including the lower wages in the public sector for skilled trades workers. As the northern economy starts to rev up, the demand for workers is going to grow, and public sector employers don’t seem to have a plan to deal with it.

At the same time as Prince George and the region are poised to grow and attract more residents, the mayor and council have embarked on confrontational and expensive approach to bargaining. The city has spent nearly $1 million on a PR campaign to set the stage for big cuts to public services. Even for right wingers who want smaller government, does it really make sense to cut back on services to citizens right at the time you’re expecting to grow?

This campaign from the city has created a difficult environment in which to negotiate a collective agreement. But I know the local leaders, working with national staff, will overcome these challenges, because the public is on our side. Residents understand that civic workers deserve a fair and reasonable contract, and they can see beyond the political hot air coming out of City Hall.

We also took the time to have a good conversation about CUPE National’s Unite for Fairness project, which has begun rolling out across the country. We talked about the serious challenges facing the labour movement and union members from right wing governments like the Harper Conservatives in Ottawa and the BC Liberals in Victoria. And we talked about how we as union members can work together to protect what we’ve won over the years and build on those gains for future generations.

I look forward in the coming weeks and months to spending more time on the road, meeting with you in your communities and learning from you about the issues you face on the job and in the community.

Mark Hancock is President of CUPE BC.

COPE 491