Something needs to be done, and done now, in regards to public sector unions supporting candidates for city council and school board.
As reported in Thursday's Daily News feature on firefighters, the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 905, representing Nanaimo Fire and Rescue, donated $6,000 to three local city councillors.
Ted Greves, a former president of Local 905, also received $2,000 for his 2011 byelection victory, and another $2,000 from FIREPAC Canada, an advocacy arm of the IAFF.
Greves is respected and decorated, as he received Star of Courage from the Governor General and a Bronze Medal of Life Saving from the Order of St. John's for his heroism during a startling 1992 ferry accident, when a vehicle fell from the top deck while loading, and Greves dove in to try to save the occupants of the car.
But how reasonable is it to expect Greves to "turn" on his union brothers and vote against their contract demands? In fact, a case could be made that allowing unions to put funds behind former union members or supporters is unfair not only in regards to democratic process, but to the candidates themselves.
That must exert extra pressure on the candidates, and some sense of loyalty, obligation or responsibility to support those who have supported you.
In the not too distant past, there have been local school trustees, whose spouses were teachers, voting on teacher contracts.
In other words, their own household income.
It would take backbones of solid steel to vote against something that would affect not just your spouse, but your family in such a direct manner.
Imagine the outcry if a local developer put up $3,000 toward a candidate in a civic election, then put their development before council for approval, and having it approved. There would be outrage, and justifiably so.
Why is it any different when it comes to union financial support for candidates, who then vote on wage and benefit packages for that union? Does anyone else out there see that as a problem? It's not enough that campaign donations must be declared following an election. That allows for some level of transparency.
But that doesn't solve the problem, and that is giving any contributing organization - union, company or special interest group - an unfair advantage when it comes to determining public policy, wages, or direction.
To be fair, CUPE and the IAFF are simply playing by the rules we currently have. It's just that those rules need to be changed. The federal government has put forward a bill to force unions to disclose what they spend their money on. That's a start.
There is a resolution before the September Union of B.C. Municipalities convention that calls on the provincial government to direct arbitrators so they don't try to 'impose parity' or 'near parity' with Vancouver firefighters on collective bargaining talks taking place outside of Vancouver.
That means us. Even though our cost of living and housing is less than Vancouver, we could be subject to negotiations where an arbitrator awards the same wage and benefit packages that Vancouver firefighters get, here in Nanaimo. That is hardly fair.
So, while we recognize a union's goal of obtaining the best possible wages and benefits in a negotiation, as a city we should be looking at firefighters and civic workers to restrain themselves in their demands at contract time. The sheer weight of the cost of public service in terms of wages, benefits and pensions is beginning to make the knees of taxpayers buckle.
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