Vancouver’s labour relations burden

Former NPA councillor Elizabeth Ball waited for several hours Thursday to speak against a motion I moved to pull Vancouver out of the GVRD Labour Relations Bureau. One of her main points: that I was exaggerating the claimed $500,000 in potential annual savings.

(The entire issue was reviewed by Allan Garr in The Courier.)

In fact, Ball argued, Vancouver would have to spend that much and more to replace the services provided by the 14-person staff at Metro. Really?

A full report on what each municipality spends on the labour relations function had been released to members that morning. It showed, as I have said, that Vancouver pays 39 percent of the annual budget. That amounts to more than $1 million.

All the other 21 municipalities pay the remaining 61 percent of the overhead.

If Vancouver does pull out at the end of the two-year notice period, we will become an associate member, without a vote, like Surrey, Richmond and Port Coquitlam. Burnaby has also given notice. Our costs would tumble, as have theirs. We would do our own bargaining, like they do.

Although Vancouver’s annual fees, based on assessed property values, would still be several hundred thousand dollars, my estimate of savings is conservative. The city already employs a full complement of its own labour relations specialists, including a lawyer and negotiators. We should be fine. And there would be significant savings.

The larger question, well posed by Garr, is this: would the cost of settlements go up? Garr argues that unions love the disintegration of the function and he may be right.

But major municipalities are already outside of the group and bargaining independently. Until that changes, Vancouver will bear the lion’s share of the cost of regional bargaining while reaping none of the benefits.

At the moment, none of the other municipalities outside the labour relations bureau or headed for the door have shown any sign they are about change direction.