Picket lines outside White Rock City Hall this week left one councillor frustrated for not fulfilling his civic duties.
Coun. Grant Meyer said he arrived at city hall just after 5 p.m. Monday, to attend an in-camera meeting, to be followed by a scheduled public hearing and regular council meeting.
But upon discovering that pickets that went up that morning remained, his plans were stymied. As a union member himself – he belongs to the BC Ferries and Marine Workers Union – Meyer would not cross the picket line.
“It’s very frustrating,” he told Peace Arch News as he sat in his truck in front of city hall. “This is why people voted for me and raised concerns, but I have to respect the picket.”
CUPE 402-01 began the full-scale strike, following rotating job action that launched May 1.
The step means that – with the exception of city hall – all city facilities are closed until further notice. In addition, garbage and recycling pickup and leisure-services classes are on hold.
In announcing the ramped-up job action Sunday afternoon, CUPE said picket lines will be up at city facilities from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and at the public works yard from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Meyer said that he checked with his union earlier Monday as to whether he could cross, in case the city-hall line continued through the council meeting. He said he got their OK, but only on the condition that he obtain a “picket pass” from CUPE 402-01.
When he asked the CUPE local, “they said no.”
“(BCMWU) are kind of disappointed,” Meyer added. “Honouring it is the right thing to do, but still…”
Meyer said that had he attended, “I could hear about news on the strike and potential solutions, and they’re not letting me in.”
Outside city hall, CUPE 402-01 president Mike Guraliuk told PAN that no picket passes would be issued during the strike. The move, he added, “is nothing personal.”
Another unionized worker noted no one is being prevented from crossing.
While Meyer was the only council member to miss Monday’s meetings, he wasn’t the only person who opted not to cross the picket line. Shaw Cable did not film council proceedings for TV viewers, and at least one regular council-watcher also did not cross.
Ken Jones – a former councillor and Liberal MLA – cited his roles as a former shop steward and convention delegate in the decision. He spent much of the evening chatting in Meyer’s truck.
Meyer said he remained outside city hall – for about three hours – mainly to explain why he wasn’t going inside. He said one woman described the line as “kind of obstructing democracy.”
In addition to walking outside the building, picketers chanted their message near meeting-room windows.
Meyer said he is holding off worrying about the possibility that the strike could go on long enough to threaten his council seat. If the job action isn’t resolved in due course, “then I’m going to have to make a decision,” he said.
City manager Dan Bottrill told PAN there are options council can explore, noting a Community Charter provision says elected officials can miss meetings for no more than 60 days or four consecutive, regularly scheduled council meetings – whichever is longer – unless the absence is due to illness or injury, or is with the leave of council.
Bottrill said the city “doesn’t have a position” on Meyer’s absence, but noted “it’s disappointing that the union took the position that it did.”
Coun. Al Campbell, a former union member, told PAN he has “absolutely” no concerns over council members crossing the picket line. At the same time, he respects Meyer’s decision.
“He’s a councillor for the City of White Rock, he does have a job to do, but it is a decision he made. I can’t criticize him for that,” Campbell said. “I respect what he did but it may not have been the call that I would’ve made.”
Coun. Helen Fathers said she felt awkward crossing, but “I had to do my job as a councillor. I felt weird, I had a pit in my stomach for sure, because of the human level. You’re walking past people that you’re friendly with.”
Fathers said the issue of Meyer possibly missing a number of meetings due to job action was discussed by council, but not in front of the public: “When he wasn’t there, we all kind of went… ‘what’s going on?’ The discussion was, if the strike goes on for a long time, does that mean that Grant’s not going to be there for a long time? You can only miss so many council meetings before things change.”
Fathers and Meyer both said they are hearing from residents concerned about the strike. The majority, they said, talk about garbage pickup.
“I’ve had so many phone calls,” Fathers said.