Labour Relations

By Gustavo Hernandez, June 11, 2011


Case Analysis

 “They want what? The mayor of Vancouver explained. “Like I said,” the City Manager replied, “a 17 percent increase over two years.”

“There is no way that the taxpayers of our city will accept a settlement anywhere near that,” reiterated the mayor. “I don’t care if the garbage doesn’t get collected for a century. We can’t do more than 8 percent over two years.”

The city manager looked worried. “How much loss of service do you think the public will accept? Suppose they do go on strike? I’m the one who always gets the complaints. Then there’s the health problem with rats running all over the place. Remember over in Burnaby, when that little kid was bitten? There was a hell of an outcry.”

The mayor agreed: “Garbage collectors always have strong bargaining power, but if I don’t fight this, I’ll be voted out in the next election. I say we offer 6 percent over 18 months. Then we can go either way – 6 percent over 12 months or 8 percent over two years.”

“I wonder if we have any other options?” worried the city manager.

“Well, we could threaten not to hire any more union personnel, or we could contract out the collection service to private contractors if the union wasn’t cooperative,” mused the mayor.

“That’s a good idea!” The city manager sounded enthusiastic. “Also, we can mount a newspaper advertising campaign to get the public behind us. If we play on the fear of massive tax increases, the garbage collectors won’t have much public sympathy.”

“What about asking the union to guarantee garbage collection for old people during a strike? If they refuse, they’ll look bad in the eyes of the public; if they accept, we are rid of a major problem. Most people can bring their trash to a central collection point. Not all old people can,” chuckled the mayor. “We can’t lose on that issue!”

“Okay then,” said the city manager. “It looks like we have the beginning of a bargaining strategy here. Actually, I feel better now. I think we’re in a rather strong position.” 


Complete critical thinking questions on chapter readings, websites, and cases and respond to readings/postings (minimum of two) within the online community.



1.      Complete and post answers to four case questions on Case Incident – Strategy pp. 462-463.

1.1.   Discuss the plight of public sector unions faced with the reality of a limited tax base and public pressure to lower taxes.


In developed countries, the spending on public employment accounts for between 50 and 75 % of the government spending.  This represents a huge pressure for taxpayer, mostly in those jurisdictions where the main source of revenue is taxes. Most of those people work in unionized employ participating in collective bargaining.

Rulers are in between these two fires (taxpayers and public sector unions) and they should administrate, and at the end to transfer, resources from taxpayers to the public sector employees for the received service.  This constitutes a permanent and latent source of conflict.  Both sectors advocate for their interest, unions for the increase of the benefits, salaries and work conditions, and taxpayer for a reduction in taxes, more efficient administration of the resources, etc.  Rulers should move in the frail equilibrium in between both sectors.

But the problem it is not such as linear. Politician plays a double role promising lowering taxes to win the support of the voters; then, when they exert the administration they grant unions and workers generous benefits.  If politicians please both, the result is disastrous at medium and long term because the administration should be extremely efficient (which never happen) or appeal to indebtedness. At the end, everyone will pay this party, mostly taxpayers.

More responsible administrations try to find an equilibrium point. Public sector unions should be granted with benefit that they resemble to other non public unions as a continue process in the labour market. In other hand, the resources to face this increase are scarce, better administration or tax increase. But there are unions dealing with very sensitive affairs such as health, some related security (security usually is not allowed to be unionized), etc. Rulers play a key role managing the potential conflict; this potential conflict has the taxpayers as hostages. They demand the service but also a reduction in taxes which represent antagonistic effects. Here, such as in the study case where there is a conflict between an union and rulers, who better and faster win the taxpayer support will be who could reach better final agreement conditions. In between, pressure, strike doing that basically taxpayers recognize as very important the given service and accept the demands, communication strategies, support from other unions or government, etc. all is allowed.


1.2.   Is the town clerk right? Is the town in a good bargaining position? Explain our answer


It looks that the town clerk is not at all right. The town is in a very delicate situation. The lack of services for a lingering period of time could cause bad mood in the population (taxpayer) but also health concerns. This situation will be very bad for the union, but it looks that it will be worst for the town clerk for his inability of find a solution and worsens the situation.

The idea of threaten not to hire any more union personnel seems goods in the negotiation stage trying to put some pressure on the union; in addition, it could be positive in the short term trying to solve the more urgent problems that the potential strike could produce, but to extend this for a long period of time will infuriate the union and force them to take more extreme actions. The result is open and nobody knows who will win this battle. The risk of maintaining this position is huge. Again, it could be a positive action face to taxpayer to fix some urgent problem, but to extend this measure for long time has unpredictable consequences.

Newspaper advertising campaign looks a terrifying point of view of the problem for someone that we should expect has strong negotiation and persuasion capacities. The way to see the problem and the communication tools looks grotesque.  I would expect that the mayor, city manager, etc, see the communication tool as an information campaign more than advertising.


This grotesque attitude form the city administrator could be seen today in the newspaper at the problem set up. Titles such as “Vancouver civic strike continues; Garbage lines streets, rat population increases” was published showing a quasi the out of control situation.


So, result could be analyzed years later when it was published on October 15, 2007: “Deal ends 88-day Vancouver labour strife”. “Garbage collection is set to resume in Vancouver Monday after the city's outside workers ratified a tentative agreement Sunday, after an almost three-month long strike”. “Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 1004 members voted 85 per cent at the city and 81 per cent at the park board in favour of the "tweaked" agreement, which provides the 1,800 garbage collectors, street crew and parks workers with a 17.5-per cent wage increase over five years.” "We're excited to have a fair contract that we can be proud of," says CUPE 1004 president Mike Jackson. “This contract will help retain skilled employees and attract new ones. This is beneficial for the workers, but it is also beneficial to the city and the public that requires quality public services."” “Long-time city truck driver Mike Johnson said the strike has created deep rifts between workers and management. He added that city residents are partly at fault for the protracted strike.” Corporate Author (2007).


1.3.   What strengths does the union have in its position?

There are many topics that could be understood as strengths or weaknesses for both union and city, but the conclusion of strength or weakness could quickly change according in how the actions and the problem evolve. For example, Vancouver residents; they could be considered a weakness for the union regarding the claim in the salary increase should be paid by the taxpayer (residents), but also it could be considered a strengths regarding the effect of non garbage collection could have in the city (e.g.: health, smell, etc) because of the city administrator incapacity of negotiate or persuade the union to enter in an agreement.

The time is another variable that it could play a significant role for both union and city. Also it could play as strength or weakness according to the evolution of the successes.


Elections, the city administrator behaviour and actions are very sensitive to time elections. If the union is able to manage this topic, it could be a strong strength, but if the union is not able to manage this topic, the city administrators could capitalize this conflict for getting more taxpayer support. Again, the end is open.

Communication is a key tool in this problem. Who is able to better communicate its position showing the hardness, non capacity, willingness, or predisposition to enter in an agreement from the other part it could win a lot of support. Again, communication could be a strength or weakness according to the way that is managed. This tool is extremely sensitive in this problem and with very fluctuant outcomes. For example we could see in the news title “Vancouver civic strike continues; Garbage lines streets, rat population increases” this two side effect. Someone could think it is responsibility of the city to take care of the population health and they are not doing a good job here. Or other person could directly accuse to the union for expose to health risk to the population because of the extreme action. Corporate Author (2008).


1.4.   If you were a labour relations consultant, would you agree with the present strategy? What alternatives, if any, would you propose?

For the point of view of the union, to arrive to the present strategy of strike means that failed any other strategy. The point that it is very difficult of understanding for the union is the huge increment that they are claiming. This looks a strong point for the city to harden its position. So, in case of being a labour relations consultant, I don’t completely agree with this strategy, it is very easy for the city to put the taxpayer against the union claims.

If we see the final result for the salary increase (17.5-per cent wage increase over five years) and we compare with the initial claim (17 percent increase over two years), we see that the union has give up a lot.

I would propose a different strategy. If the union could live with around of 3.5% of increase per year, I would suggest start claiming between 4.5 and 5% per year over a period of 3 years plus other benefits such as more vacation, improve or start a retirement plan, more money for training, more money for new equipment that facilitate the job of the workers, more rest time, better insurance plan, better health care plan, etc. Then, the union could rank all this claims in the level of concession that could give up in the negotiation process. Once the negotiation starts, the union could shows a good predisposition to arrive at an agreement giving up something in exchange.

If the city does not show predisposition to arrive at an agreement, I would suggest the possibility of call a mediator. For the union, to get the 3.5% of increase per year looks to be easy to support base of the macro-economic conditions and other unions achievements.

Finally, I would suggest to take a lot of caution in the decision of go to strike of any other action that means an strong damage for third parts such as population, taxpayer, etc; the support of these group is extremely volatile.


2.      What guidelines would you suggest for determining the point at which to terminate an employee who shows signs of being prone to violence?

I am not supportive of the idea of termination for an employee who is showing signs of being prone to violence. This employee has problems and I can not see a big difference between those cases where the worker is considered under some disability (e.g.: drugs) and a worker with problem to control his/her behaviour. I think this worker should be understood and assigned him/her a different role in the organization that decrease his/her level of stress, and of course consider any rehabilitation program addressing in how to manage this propensity to violence.

This is related with tendency to violence. It is different if an employee commits some violent act. In this case I would suggest applying with rigor the regulation in place for both the work environment and social connivance.

Statistics in the United States support the idea of a mayor problem which should be considered for rehabilitation programs. The report published by the U.S. Department of Justice in 1998 show that there were two million incidences of workplace violence reported, including one million simple assaults and 400,000 aggravated assaults. And reported is the key word; the vast majority of workplace assaults and other forms of aggression go unreported.  The results of some additional surveys shed light on the depth and breadth of the problem: Northwestern National Life Insurance Company found that 2.5 percent of respondents had been physically attacked on the job at least once. The American Management Association found that 52 percent of respondents reported experiencing at least once incident or threat of violence in the workplace in the previous three years. The Society for Human Resources Management found that 48 percent of employees surveyed experienced a violent incident in the workplace in the previous two years, including verbal threats (39 percent), pushing and shoving (22 percent) and fist fights (14 percent). Only 3 percent involved shootings, knifings or sexual assaults (Atkinson, 1999).


3.      Is it worth the time and expense to monitor employees’ use of the Internet if employee performance is generally good? How is this any different from monitoring telephone usage for personal calls?


To monitor employee’s use of the Internet is a vigilance action. It has many concerns for many points of view. How much identification with the company an employee could feel if s/he knows that is being monitored? This is independent of the employee performance. To correlate employee performance with the use of internet could orient the problem in a wrong direction, and the opposite: what happened if HR realizes that the good performance of an employee is because the extensive use of internet?

So, it looks that the use of internet should be a general policy in the company in relationship with the occupied position; there are positions that require an extensive use of internet. To monitor people for the use of internet associated to their performance is a negative message for employees and it shows some lose of control of the situation from the company.

In other point of view, at the current state of the IT technology it looks irrelevant the time and expenses to monitor someone in the company network. Many very cheap hardware and software can do that.

The concept is also applicable to monitoring telephone usage for personal calls.




Corporate Author (2007). Deal ends 88-day Vancouver labour strife. CanWest MediaWorks Publications Inc. Retrieved from


Corporate Author (2008). Vancouver civic strike continues; Garbage lines streets, rat population increases. North Day Nugget. Retrieved from


Atkinson, W (1999). Risk Management. Center for Aggression Management. Retrieved from