COLUMN: Kindred voice muzzled

No shortage of rhetoric in strike situations, writes columnist Frank Bucholtz, with regard to current job action in White Rock

White Rock Coun. Grant Meyer didn’t attend Monday night’s council meeting. The striking civic workers union effectively blocked him.

Meyer, who is a union worker for B.C. Ferries, was told by his own union that he could likely get a pass to go through the picket lines. But when he asked members of striking Local 402-01 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees for a pass, they wouldn’t grant him one.

It sounds to me like a dumb public-relations move on their part.

One would think a councillor who is a union member might be more sympathetic to their objectives. Preventing a councillor from attending a regular council meeting and doing his duty to taxpayers isn’t likely to soften his heart towards their cause. Nor will his voice be raised at the table where it counts – the council table – on their behalf.

But Meyer also needs to consider his own actions. If this strike goes for a long time, is he going to stop attending council meetings if he can’t get through picket lines?

If so, he should at the very least forfeit his pay, and at the most, resign his seat.

It’s fine to catch up with citizens in other venues, but the primary duty of a councillor is to deal with city business by attending meetings, and casting votes.

One of the most urgent items of business before the city right now is settling this strike, which seems on the surface to be unnecessary and nothing more than a drain on union members’ finances and an inconvenience to residents.

There are apparently only a few issues outstanding, according to what has been released by the two sides. They don’t seem to be that far apart. If that is the case, why is a full-scale strike even necessary?

If the strike has been called due to obstinacy on the part of the city, or of the union leadership, a lot of people will be suffering for nothing. That doesn’t seem to make a great deal of sense.

In the meantime, CUPE local 402-01 needs to stop and reconsider its actions in hindering Meyer from attending a council meeting. While the union likely welcomes the added publicity from having him wait outside, it should give him a pass to attend future meetings.

That would show an understanding of the responsibilities of a councillor on its part.

In the long run, keeping him from meetings will only mean that the viewpoint of a union member isn’t being heard in any council discussions over negotiations.

It may even mean that voters will turf him from council this November, if they perceive that he isn’t doing his job properly by respecting a picket line.

Given the reaction of Mayor Wayne Baldwin, who is the former city administrator, union members might want to have Meyer’s perspective inside city hall, for balance purposes if nothing else.

Baldwin said Meyer is an employer, as such, as a member of council and needs to attend meetings.

He went on to say that if a meeting is cancelled because of a lack of a quorum, he would hold the union personally responsible.

That seems a bit harsh, but it may simply be rhetoric, of which there is no shortage in strike situations,

It does not seem to make any sense to keep a member of council from attending a meeting, particularly if he is more sympathetic to your cause than some others may be. Somehow, that does not seem to be a benefit to the strikers or to the union. However, union politics sometimes defy common sense, and this may be one of those cases.

The bad news out of this strike, for casual visitors to White Rock, is that pay parking will continue along Marine Drive. Despite the lack of union workers, city managers will continue to hand out tickets and collect fines.

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.

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