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Union motions blocked at Vancouver Art Gallery meeting

The union representing workers at the Vancouver Art Gallery was prevented at the gallery's annual general meeting from having VAG members vote on whether to increase financial transparency at the institution.

CUPE Local 15, which represents about 80 gallery workers, had prepared two motions in advance of Wednesday night's meeting. One called for the VAG to disclose details of financial remuneration for employees earning more than $75,000. The other called for the VAG to disclose its expenses and costs for all advocacy related to its desired move to the Larwill Park site at Georgia and Cambie Streets, now a parking lot.

The motions were made in the wake of decreased hours and layoffs at the gallery, as well as what the union calls the VAG's "aggressive lobbying campaign" promoting a move.

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"It's been very, very stressful on [gallery workers]" said Sally Bankiner, CUPE 15's second vice-president, after the AGM. "They've taken wage rollbacks, people have been laid off. And we're just trying to find out what the people at the top are being paid."

Last year, workers took a 5 per cent cut in hours. In the last few weeks, CUPE says six people have been laid off. VAG director Kathleen Bartels says there have been five recent layoffs, three involving part-time staff (one of whom found employment elsewhere in the gallery). Ms. Bartels also pointed out that senior management had their wages frozen in 2008 and last year took a 4 per cent cut in salary, which remains in effect.

At the same time, the gallery is trying to raise funds for a new building. According to the 2009-10 annual report, the VAG has raised more than $52-million for the project. The cost of the move has been estimated at $350-million to $400-million. The VAG has created a website, convened public meetings and has hired a public relations firm to help convince the public - and ultimately City Hall - to support the move.

"All of their campaign for the relocation project is [being]completely [funded with]public money," said Matthew Quiring, a shop steward who works at the VAG's gift store. "So we would like to know exactly how it's being spent."

But at the meeting Wednesday night, gallery chair David Aisenstat ruled CUPE's motions out of order, saying members did not have the information they needed to make an informed decision. "The board has not had an opportunity to even consider it," he told the meeting, attended by well under 100 of the VAG's 40,000 members. Privacy issues were also cited as a complication in the matter.

Ms. Bankiner said the notices of motion were hand-delivered to the gallery a month ago - plenty of time, she said, to have had the items added to the AGM's agenda.

Not so, said VAG trustee David Calabrigo, who is also a lawyer. He said the notices of motion should be dealt with at the board level, not at the AGM.

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"That's more the appropriate way to do it, I think, rather than just send in a notice to management and expect a board to be convened in the middle of the summer. ... There were some issues that the board really needed to think about.

"I understand the nature of their concern," he later added. "There's great sympathy on the board ... for the layoffs and things that are occurring, so I understand the frustration that they have."

But Ms. Bankiner was upset with the way things played out Wednesday night.

"It wasn't about coming here to have a fight. It was about coming here to get some questions answered."

When asked about the union's next move, Ms. Bankiner was unsure. But she said they'll continue to fight for disclosure.

"You're a public gallery, you have money coming from government, taxpayers, and if you want to be transparent, then do the right thing. That's all we're asking."

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About the Author
Western Arts Correspondent

Marsha Lederman is the Western Arts Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver. She covers the film and television industry, visual art, literature, music, theatre, dance, cultural policy, and other related areas. More

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