Something in the water maybe?


By Andrew Mitchell

The confrontation between the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the RMOW took a turn for the worst last week when attempts at mediated talks broke down twice with no resolution.

Then CUPE went too far.

The union, which represents about 25 municipal sewage and water treatment workers as well as bylaw officers and utilities workers in Whistler, threatened to take out ads nationally and internationally warning people to stay away from Whistler because of concerns over the quality of the drinking water.

Of course, if you asked the union it wasn't a threat per se. "It is our moral obligation to warn residents and visitors of the public safety risks they face in Whistler," said CUPE national representative Robin Jones.

But it sure felt like one.

There's nothing wrong with the water, according to government reports. It gets monitored regularly and if any problems do show up then the public will be alerted immediately as measures are taken to correct the problem. Water is taken very seriously by all levels of government.

The actual employees who test water are not even allowed to go on full strike - they're as much an essential service as police, paramedics and doctors. The 'work to rule' job action is about as far as they can go without breaking the law.

So what was CUPE trying to pull? Were they really hoping to scare the people of Whistler into demanding that the municipality back their call for a $4,000 cost of living increase?

And in the process did they really want to kick the crutch out from under our slowly recovering tourism industry to drive home a point about affordability, effectively endangering the livelihoods of local businesses and thousands of resort workers?

I can't imagine local CUPE members supporting a warning that would hurt all of their neighbours who make their living off the tourism trade. Is the union really so out of touch with this community they're pretending to care about, or so blind to the kind of damage that these kinds of threats can cause?

Walkerton was not that long ago, after all, and we all saw what kind of impact the recent SARS outbreak had on Canadian tourism. This is not a threat to be taken lightly.

The municipality is on top of things. They have consulted lawyers on the issue, and developments should progress quickly this week.

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