VERNON—CUPE members demonstrated at Liberal MLA Eric Foster’s constituency office on Saturday to protest Bill 21 – the Liberal government’s unprecedented legislation that forces workers, who were in the middle of voting on a collective agreement, back to work. The small crowd of Okanagan Mainline District Council delegates was joined by concerned members from the community. The impromptu protest garnered support from passers-by who honked and waved.
“Mr. Foster, we will not take a day off,” said CUPE 5523 (Vernon School District) president Mark Olsen, referring to the fact that the Vernon-Monashee MLA was taking a day off instead of dealing with issues critical to the constituency. “We are not going to quit.”
Olsen explained that the legislation affects every public sector worker going into bargaining in 2010. The legislation was rammed through while union members were voting on the government’s last offer – the first time in Canadian history that a contract was imposed in the middle of a vote.
CUPE BC General Vice President Cindy McQueen told the crowd, “Instead of providing needed services to communities, this government is attacking workers’ rights.”
She reminded folks that in B.C. 200,000 public employees have collective agreements that expire next year. About 60,000 are CUPE members working in K-12, post-secondary, health and community social services sectors. McQueen pointed out that these workers will be negotiating with the same Liberal government that chose to legislate, instead of bargain, a contract with CUPE 873.
“The implications for all workers in B.C. are huge,” noted McQueen.
Mark Olsen told local television media, who were covering the demonstration, that the government was following orders from VANOC.
Olsen was referring to a memo that the Vancouver Olympic Committee sent the BC Ambulance Service telling the government that they required a guarantee that no ambulance services would be disrupted or reduced during the Games.
“VANOC said that if they did not get a guarantee through either settlement of the strike or legislated détente, they would initiate contingency plans to avoid cancelling the Games,” said Olsen. “Who’s the government listening to, the people of this province, or VANOC?”