I noticed something during the CAW general meeting the other day which I wish I had paid more attention to, so I want to discuss it here. It has to do with a tendency I am seeing on the part of the Christy Clark government, and it is something that should be noted.
Christy doesn’t believe it costs any more to live in Vancouver or Victoria than it does to live anywhere else in Canada.
Let’s put that into some sort of context, shall we?
During the teacher’s recent job action, a representative of the Christy government was interviewed by the CBC. During the interview he kept pointing out how teachers are … his words not mine … a dime a dozen, and they must therefore accept the fact that market forces dictate their wages must be below the national average. Setting aside the fact that apparently we are the only province in Canada that seems to have more teachers than jobs for them to fill … obviously not true … he made it very clear to me that this government sees the teachers as nothing more than numbers on a spreadsheet, to be reduced and manipulated however possible, as dictated by their current economic and ideological fashion.
Back to the union meeting.
Ben, our local President, was speaking on the possibility of wage increases for the skilled trades workers in our local. It is a dire situation because they are losing staff to pretty much everyone right now, primarily because our company pays … well … it doesn’t, actually. The term “Industry Adjustment” (memory?) was presented as the reason the company was willing to increase their wage by more than a token amount.
This is all fine and good, but our local is comprised primarily of bus drivers, and the inevitable question came up. “What can WE expect”?
Don’t forget, Victoria’s drivers are some of the lowest paid in Canada, and anyone who has attempted to purchase a home, or even pay rent, knows how much that hurts the quality of life.
Ben’s response caught my attention. Paraphrasing it to the best of my memory he basically said that because there is not a huge exodus of drivers, and because our company is not having too hard a time getting new ones, we do not merit an “Industry Adjustment”.
Cue room full of despondent and pissed off drivers.
Ben had some fun trying to make them feel better.
Before I make my point I should be clear, what I am about to point out Ben might already be well aware of, and might already have a fully thought through plan to deal with it. I don’t know. I just want to point it out for the rest of us, and anyone in the negotiating team who may have forgotten.
Based on Ben’s response to the operator’s question, I felt like he had bought into the Christy government’s premise that employee wages are solely influenced by market forces. They are not. Not even close. If they were then the oil workers in northern Alberta would all be making $12.00 an hour because there has never been a shortage of young men who want to go work in frontier towns, mostly for all the fun and adventure that sort of free-for-all environment implies.
Victoria is one of the most expensive cities in Canada to live in. To not take that into account during negotiations, to expect operators to accept the same wages here as they do in Brockville or Hamilton, is simply the government being obtuse. Victoria’s organized workers … the teachers, the ambulance workers, the bus drivers, all of them … they need to have wages that allow them to have a quality of live comparable to the same employees elsewhere in Canada. Currently they do not.
Our negotiating team will want to remember this little fact when the people across them at the table trot out the “market influence” line. Bullshit is bullshit, and for them to try and frame the wage debate in those sorts of terms is just one baby step away from an outright lie. Christy knows it, and somehow she seems to think nobody else does. Remind her.
When I vote to ratify this coming agreement, I will be looking for the part that allows me the freedom to actually LIVE in the region I live in.