4 min

Pride events brace for city strike

City workers could begin strike this week

With the possibility of a city strike looming as Xtra West goes to press, Vancouver’s Pride organizers are waiting with bated breath to find out how events taking place on city property and relying on the city’s human resources may be affected.

It’s a situation of “hurry up, wait-and-see,” says the Vancouver Pride Society’s (VPS) president John Boychuk.

One of Boychuk’s main concerns is garbage pickup after the Saturday night fireworks before the Pride parade, which is scheduled to start at noon on Sun Aug 5.

“It’s just whether they will clean up or if we do that ourselves,” he says.

“Sanitation is an issue,” agrees Muriel Honey of the special events office at the City of Vancouver.

“Sanitation is an issue for the Celebration of Light and sanitation is an issue for Pride. All we can do is try our best. The critical one, of course, is the one between the Celebration of Light and Pride, but the city is committed to try and make it work,” says Honey.

While noting that VPS volunteers usually take care of garbage collection at the post-parade festival at Sunset Beach, Boychuk reveals that meeting the city’s requested 200-volunteer mark still poses a challenge.

“Let’s get to that first,” he says, “before considering the next level about what may be required” in the event of a strike.

As for the sewer line project on Sunset Beach, work on that has been postponed until the fall, says Daisy Chin, head of special events at the Vancouver Park Board. With or without a strike, the city plans to re-open the Pride festival site within the week and it will be ready to go for Aug 5, Chin promises.

Parks Board commissioner Spencer Herbert, who is queer, says Pride’s health and success is contingent on the queer community stepping up to the plate — “making sure that we pick up after ourselves and not relying on somebody else to do the dirty work for us.

“We just have to look to our community partners — whether or not it’s the fireworks or the Pride festival or people who benefit from using the parks — to say, ‘You’ve gained so much over the years from the park system, now we really need you to give back and take care of your community,” Herbert contends.

Any initial job action will be in the form of an overtime ban, he notes, adding that shouldn’t pose a problem for Pride.

Dyke March and Festival organizer Michelle Walker is confident the annual McSpadden to Grandview Park trek is not in any jeopardy from a strike.

“We’re doing okay. As it is, everything is in place. We have always taken care of clean up,” Walker points out, adding that while the city does provide security, the march has its own marshals along the route. Police or no police, the march will still happen, she asserts.

But Joanne Ursino of the Pride in Art Society admits she is anxious about the fate of her group’s two-week visual and performing arts festival that is set to run from Jul 30 to Aug 14 at the Roundhouse Community Centre.

“The Roundhouse Community Centre is a city facility. If the outside workers set up a picket line, the Roundhouse will be closed. If the inside workers are out, then the Roundhouse will be closed,” Ursino points out.

“We’ve been all systems go, and working to get ready for the show. In the event of a strike, we will deal with what we need to do. So if it happens this week, we continue to plan in the event that the strike is over and we can hang the show on the 28th and 29th [of July]. If they’re still on strike, then we sit down as a board and figure out what to do next,” she says.

“But we won’t cross the picket line to hang the show or promote the show,” Ursino emphasizes, noting that “a number of us are union members… we would be in solidarity with workers.”

“It’s questionable,” she says when asked if the Society is looking for a new venue to host the festival in light of all the uncertainty.

“It’s a large show. There are 25 artists in it and it’s a themed show,” she explains, “and I think to take it apart and try and accommodate it in another venue, I don’t see it working. We’ve already designed how the show will hang at the Roundhouse. I don’t see it as hanging in another venue right now.”

“We do not want to go on strike. We do not want to disrupt services,” Paul Faoro, president of CUPE local 15, asserts. However, he cannot give any guarantees to potentially affected organizations like the VPS.

“We participate in Pride. Many of our members participate in it. It’s an important event to our union,” Faoro points out. But, he says, the union has a responsibility to ensure the wellbeing of its workers and their families in a booming economy.

Key among the issues in contention is the city’s offer of a 39-month contract that straddles the 2010 Olympics and a 10 percent wage increase — measures which the union has rejected in favour of a two-year agreement and a higher raise.

Mayor Sam Sullivan told Xtra West Jul 11 he was “very worried” about the impact a strike would have on the lives of tens of thousands of people.

“Celebrations like the Pride parade may be impacted. That’s why we’ve made this last, final effort and requested that the employees be able to vote on the full package. I’m very hopeful that the employees will see it is a very fair offer. There will be no less benefits in any way. It is at the top of the scale of agreements that have been signed lately,” he says.

“I’m hoping we get a negotiated settlement. I think that’s what we need,” says Herbert.

What’s missing, asserts Herbert, is leadership from the mayor.

“We’ve had a lot of time to get our act together. We could see a strike coming for months, and there’s been no leadership at that level.”