Province Newspaper December 14, 2003: It'll take some truly dogged determine to fix the SPCA mess
by Jon Ferry
"Now that the B.C. Ferries animal show is over, at least for now, it's time to look at another essential B.C. service being ripped apart by unbelievably beastly labour relations.
I'm referring, of course, to the SPCA, where -- according to dueling press releases -- the union-management battle is becoming brutish, not to mention downright suicidal.
In the right corner, management accuses CUPE, the big public-sector union, of risking the lives of homeless animals by urging the public to withhold donations.
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals chief executive Craig Daniell also charges the Canadian Union of Public Employees with "holding the animals hostage by demanding wages and staffing levels that simply can't be met without seriously jeopardizing the animals," he said last week.
Daniell, who's paid $109,000 a year, says the union salary rate for Lower Mainland animals shelter workers already exceeds $28 an hour -- while non-union staff doing the same job in other SPCA shelters around B.C. make close to the minimum wage.
In the left corner, CUPE, hard hit recently by layoffs, accuses SPCA bosses of failing to mention the "scandalous" wages and benefits paid senior managers.
"They omitted the fact that this charitable organization has paid out in excess of $800,000 in severance packages alone in the last couple of years," notes acting CUPE B.C. president Mark Hancock, who last week strongly supported the illegally striking ferry workers.
As well as urging the SPCA board to resign, CUPE wants people to make their SPCA donations this Christmas in kind -- to bring food/toys or offer to walk the dogs.
"These tangible donations reach the animals directly and aren't used to pay off the severance packages or start up marketing campaigns that don't directly benefit the animals or the public," Hancock says. And that, says Daniell, could cripple the SPCA which relies on donations from the public and continues to rack up huge deficits.
Now, I believe in the past some SPCA bosses have behaved sneakily and in their own naked self-interest. But that's no excuse for CUPE to start tearing the SPCA apart. Like the ferry strike, this vicious labour spat has become a case study of how NOT to do labour relations in this province. And it's high time we learned a couple of lessons.
1. Managers have to learn to appreciate the value of their workers -- and to realize that, to get from A to B, you sometimes have to take your time, like any good bloodhound.
2. Union leaders have to stop behaving like rabid pitbulls.
Finally, both sides have to realize that, in these public service disputes, the most important interests to be served are invariably not their own. "