Ask Not …

This morning, I was waiting for a steetcar on Queen Street after brunch at one of my favourite hangouts, Bonjour Brioche.  On the carstop sign, I noticed a sticker had been added saying “My Toronto Does Nothing For Me”.

This seems to be a prevailing sentiment among people who have lots to complain about, usually in relation to their perceived right to have the City and its agencies (and everyone else’s taxes) give them ideal services with nothing in return.

To those who would have the CUPE strike ended yesterday with whatever Draconian consequences (usually something slow and painful) for the public workers, I have little sympathy.  Everyone focuses on the garbage collectors, but they are a small part of the total civic workforce.  Many other services come from dedicated staff who perform a myriad of duties for us, the broader public.

I say this as someone recently retired from a public career as an IT Manager at the Toronto District School Board.  Most of my staff were CUPE members, and they were dedicated to keeping our systems running as well as possible for hundreds of thousands of students, teachers and staff.  Whenever we attempted to hire from outside, job applications were overwhelmingly of less than stellar quality even though the IT market is supposedly depressed.  This says something about the competitiveness of our wage levels.

Following the 1998 shotgun weddings of the cities and school boards in Toronto, both the City and Board staff went through immense upheaval as services were consolidated.  Board IT staffing was cut by over half even though the number of students and schools remained the same, and the demand for networked services grew immensely.

Early retirement buyouts took the cream of the organization, the people who actually knew how it worked and how to get things done, in every department, out of the shop.  We saved the taxpayers millions, but only on paper, and lost years of knowledge.  Informal relationships between departments that greased the wheels in every part of the Board vanished only to be replaced by the sort of cumbersome bureaucracy so-often complained of in large agencies.

A few rotten apples were, with some effort, removed, but they were exceptions among skilled, hard-working staff.  Such people will be found in any organization.  Meanwhile, senior management ranks filled with many whose ambitions overreached their abilities.  Try getting rid of people like that without a handsome payout, assuming the organization even recognizes it has a problem.

When I look at the current civic workers’ strike in Toronto, I am disappointed that it happened, and that it’s not yet over.  I am not going to debate the merits of each side’s position here because that would turn a transit blog into a repository for anti-union, anti-public service and, yes, anti-Miller bilge that has quite enough play elsewhere.  In brief, I think the City’s position is reasonable, and those playing politics would do well to consider how they might handle the situation otherwise.

Toronto does a lot for me personally by permitting a rich varied lifestyle and a broad menu of diversions.  In return, I work to advance public services, especially those provided by the transit system, even when my advocacy runs headlong into pig-headed politicians and professional staff.  Many other advocates, some well-known, some only members of a small neighbourhood association, make their marks on Toronto.  A small army of civic staff through many agencies deliver the services we all work so hard to attain.

The strike needs to end, and soon, so that we can all concentrate on the betterment of the city.  Part of that betterment is the spirit of involvement in civic affairs at the political and community level that is the real strength of Toronto.  Many citizens care about their city, about their Toronto.  That inclusive, plural voice is the heart of “my” city, a city where people ask what they can do to make it a better place everywhere from the posh waterfront to the poor suburbs.

23 thoughts on “Ask Not …

  1. Steve, I don’t think you can blame wage competitiveness necessarily for the quality of sysadmins applying to institutional employers like TDSB. I never even considered the school board when I first came to Canada, because it didn’t occur to me that it would be an interesting place to work. Having spent a significant portion of your career there, it might be interesting to hear what might attract someone who didn’t enjoy locking down systems and day-to-day administration so much as major projects and systems evolution.

    Steve: When you consider that TDSB has a network larger than many banks, and likely to grow at an immense rate as a 1:1 ratio of students and workstations approaches, there are challenges of scale in all systems that simply don’t exist in many shops. Day-to-day administration is the least of what we did — it was dealing with all of the exceptions, the huge range of equipment and software in a network we could not, as a matter of policy, control and trying to make all that work with a demand pattern totally unlike that in an office environment. The problem was to find people who had worked in shops with more than 100 computers and a few servers. They don’t grow on trees, and we were competing with very large organizations who could afford to pay them well.

    As for the strike – look Steve, the anger at CUPE isn’t about the strike, or even that garbage pickup is suspended. If you go to City Hall Car Park, you are told to wait 1 minute. I imagine the same is true if you go to the front door of City Hall itself. At garbage sites it is 15 minutes *from when you reach the front of the line* which leads to aggregate waits measured in hours. This is inordinately punitive and I can’t credit that CUPE thinks this is reasonable. It is they, and not the public, who have managed to focus anger on garbage rather than daycare or the loss of the island ferries, or building permits (for which I am waiting).

    Steve: You may have noticed that I think the strike should be over. I have no use for the tactic of blocking access as this only inflames people about the inconvenience and works against any sympathy the strikers may otherwise get. At some locations, the amount of delay can be affected by whether the pickets on duty even care to hold up proceedings. There is a difference between the strike tactics and the services those workers would otherwise be providing and their dedication when at work. This distinction is lost in much of the anti-union rhetoric, not that CUPE does itself any favours either.


  2. The sticker campaign has been around for a while; I recall a post on Spacing about its appearance on a garbage bin. It’s a sort of it’s-cool-to-be-apathetic sentiment that was around before the strike, though I would worry the strike is only making things worse.

    Steve: Yes, I found the double meaning of “does nothing for me” in our present context troubling, and hence my post.


  3. One: Steve thank you for all the years you have been a transit advocate, I think you have been one longer than I have been alive.

    One thing about this strike I have noticed is how much garbage my house produces and I am bowing down my head in shame.

    I notice people will blame the first person they get…let’s say we are waiting for that Streetcar that’s taking forever to come, it is quite easy to blame the driver but what many people don’t think is the traffic that is blocking the streetcar.

    I have to be honest here: I have blamed TTC Chair Giambrone when I was waiting in Scarborough in -20 something C temperature for a bus with a lot of snow in the road and it took over half and hour……Giambrone I am sure was warm in his home and had nothing to do with my bus being really late when a storm just occured. I should of blamed the weather.

    Yes it is easy to blame the unions, technically the majority of them went on strike and I am sure they have mortages and other bills to pay that they can’t pay now…but like you said the garbage workers are just one part of the whole strike force…You know who I blame for all the amount of garbage? I blame myself, I blame you and I blame almost every Torontonian, if we didn’t throw that much garbage, then we wouldn’t need as many temporary dump sites.

    People need to calm down, breathe in and out then relax a bit and think things properly.

    I am amazed that today there were so many volunteer groups cleaning up their neighbourhoods, mowing the grass of their local parks and so forth.

    Bitching and yelling doesn’t get anything done, actions get things done.


  4. I sincerely doubt that CUPE truly believes the public will be so impressed with the job action that we will pressure Miller to give them their desired benefits.

    Just like previous TTC union strikes, this is a ploy to get legislated back to work.

    The whole striking strategy used by public employees is a broken model. They lost my sympathy long ago.


  5. zb Says:
    July 18th, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    “I sincerely doubt that CUPE truly believes the public will be so impressed with the job action that we will pressure Miller to give them their desired benefits.

    “Just like previous TTC union strikes, this is a ploy to get legislated back to work.

    “The whole striking strategy used by public employees is a broken model. They lost my sympathy long ago.”

    They are not striking to GET any new benefits but are striking to keep what they have. Sure this strike is inconveniencing you but it will be a major change to employee benefits. If you like having weekends and paid vacation then thank a union member. I have been on the picket line and it is not fun and games but there comes a time when you have to stand up for what you have. I hope that the union keeps their benefits because it means that working conditions will improve for the rest. This is not a race to the bottom as would happen without unions.


  6. The gap between the private and public sector in terms of pay and benefits is growing everyday in many jobs. This means that there will be no end to anti-union rhetoric. I think it’s inevitable that there is going to be some balancing happen as the years go by. And I also think that this balancing isn’t going to be result in everyone in the private sector getting a raise either.


  7. Bravo Steve for standing up for what you believe. I happen to believe in the same thing and I think it is important to speak out in support of hard working people that make this great City work. Like you, I love this City and admire those who contribute to its success.

    As for the public sector wages (I am not a member of that work force) I do not for a moment believe that they are excessive. What is excessive is the erosion of the middle class in our modern society as positions that provide a living wage are replaced by McJobs. Resentment by those who hold McJobs with poor wages and no or poor benefits is not productive. What would be productive would be for more people to have real jobs with proper benefits and a decent pay packet. Reducing even more people to the McJob level (“because I don’t have it, why should they”) will simply result in a less fair society.

    With regard to the current strike – I wish it had not happened and worry about the CUPE members who have to pay their bills and have been without pay for several weeks. That must be horrible and I do question the inability of the leaders to reach a settlement so their members can go back to work. Without commenting directly on the issues, I think that CUPE leadership shares a problem that many unions have – subordinating the interests of younger members to those of older longer term employees.

    Finally, I remember how public sector union leadership treated Bob Rae, who I believe genuinely wanted to look after public sector employees in difficult times. It deeply saddens me to hear Union members singing “Good Bye David” and to read about the vilification of our Mayor (who I strongly support.) Does CUPE really think they will get a better settlement from the like of Case Ootes or Karen Stintz. Even John Tory will not make the campaign miscalculation (i.e. to win at all costs) of running without catering to the rabid right wing.


  8. I wasn’t going to comment on this, if only because even with Steve’s benevolent moderation we tend to get into pro/anti union rhetoric etc. But I must admit to be do tempted by Robert’s comments, I can’t resist.

    Preface/Context: I am currently a member of a private sector Union and have been for the last number of years; I also tend overwhelmingly (but not always) to vote/support the ‘progressive’ end of the political spectrum. I think that preface is important in reading the tenure of what I have to say.

    In so far as the principal issue of this debate is sick days (I realize there are other issues), there is no excuse whatever for retaining the current arrangement. To suggest that somehow merely because someone, at some time negotiated for and received 18 paid sick days that it should be retained ad nauseum is rather peculiar; and to me unsupportable.

    Everything must have a reason. Particularly when a working condition/benefit stands out from the norm. In this case, it should be said that the 18 paid sick days originated, as I understand it with garbage workers, from the time when they had to personally throw bags in the back of the truck and often got injured as a result. My instinct says 18 days was on the generous side even then … but let’s leave that to one side.

    Garbage workers no longer pick up the garbage, the mechanical arm picks up the bin; the worker drives a truck and presses a button/lever. That should not lead to inordinate injury or illness. Moreover, the 18 days was extended to workers for whom these conditions never applied, arguably in the interests of fairness, but this conflates the notion of an ‘insurance’ benefit which sick days are supposed to be; with a cash benefit which they are NOT supposed to be. Which, I hasten to add is the problem with long-term banking of sick days as well.

    On wages and other benefits such as medical/dental or the likes, the workers do and would have my full sympathy; but this particular issue is a non-starter, and most public sector workers who had this benefit or something like it, lost it decades ago. As a union worker myself, and a progressive, I want to see more worker benefits, particularly for those least well off, by any mixture of collective agreements or laws.

    I have to say though, as worker in the private sector, I don’t ever remember getting a deal 1/2 as rich as that enjoyed by City workers, even though I am Union. (how does 4 paid sick days sound?) I also don’t remember public sector workers offering to support a strike in the private sector, certainly not in my experience; or for that matter going on strike to support advances in worker rights in law (ie. a higher min. wage, more paid vacation, paid sick days, pharmacare etc.)

    By all means Unions of the 1930’s should be given credit for holding general strikes and sometimes brutal fights to give ALL workers a better deal. But today’s public sector unions often leave the impression of caring only for themselves and not for workers Union or otherwise in any other profession or workplace.

    This impression may not be fair, but I think it is widely held, and a terrible PR disaster that leaves in people like me who should be and normally are sympathizers to the Union’s cause, rethinking that position.

    Steve: When I see garbage trucks rolling up Broadview, workers are pitching bags full of all sorts of crap off of the sidewalk into the back of the trucks. It’s not all done with bins especially through commercial districts that have city garbage collection.


  9. I find it rather odd that the “all workers have unions to thank” argument is mentioned in the context of the current strike as Robert Wightman brought up.

    While the topic of bankable paid sick days has been at the forefront of the strike, this benefit is not currently enjoyed by all the striking city workers. While striking to “maintain what they already have”, many of the strikers’ own “union brothers and sisters” do not receive this benefit, instead receive a range of benefits from no sick days at all to non-bankable sick days. Instead of giving up what few can argue is a bit excessive, but only received by a fraction of their membership, in exchange of something that is fair to all, they stick to the “can’t give up what was already won” at all cost and many of their members will suffer.

    Unions try to fight for equality for workers, but sometimes this means that some workers are more equal than others.

    Steve: Yes, I find this situation rather odd. The many seasonal workers in CUPE are being affected much more, proportionately, by lost wages (and lost EI eligibility), and yet the focus seems to be on the long-term, full-time staff.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I worked for TDSB which has 24, count ’em, 24 sick days per year, bankable and payable on retirement at 50% of their value up to half a year’s pay. That retirement gratuity, as it is known, figured importantly for me, as it does for others who have such a benefit. However, there is nothing preventing the City from grandfathering this benefit for a specific group of workers who are close to retirement, thereby capping the liability the City is so worried about. This is what is in the offer, although I suspect there could be some haggling about how long the offer would remain open.

    One issue from a staffing point of view is that any such benefit’s imminent demise could lead to a spate of early retirements, but not necessarily of those the City can do without. Both the City and TDSB had this problem with the early retirement buyouts after amalgamation, and many good people left both organizations. Indeed, the scheme that was used — getting OMERS to give an enhanced pension — actually drained OMERS of resources that later had to be replenished by an increase in the contribution rate. In effect, my pension plan was used to help Mike Harris downsize the municipal workforce.


  10. I’m generally fairly liberal in most of my thinking, but I do find it a bit absurd that one union local represents everything from garbage to day care to EMS to administrative staff. I don’t want to see the union decertified or anything, but breaking up the units so they aren’t shutting down things entirely should be considered.

    Steve: This arrangement came directly out of the amalgamation of the cities in 1998. Thank Mike Harris.

    Looking ahead, I’m afraid that this strike will probably result in a mayor well to the right of Miller, and possibly a city council more amenable to the scorched-earth public service outlook of Ford, Holyday, Stintz etc. That means no (or a very scaled-down) Transit City, fewer public events, higher fees on programs at community centres, etc. All so they can brag to the upper and middle class homeowners who are the ones to take the time to vote that they held the line on property taxes. Then the same tactic will be taken to the ATU. This strike has far reaching consequences beyond garbage pick-up.

    Steve: My concern is that the so-called left, including the labour movement, needs to recognize the danger of the games they are playing. If enough people vote right wing, either because they are aggrieved home-owning taxpayers or because they are labour fools trying to turf Miller out for spite, what will happen to our city? Stintz and Co. can’t put together a decent set of speeches or policies at Council, only complain, and I don’t want to see the mess after four years of their tender care.


  11. Steve,

    I was going to refrain from joining in on this discussion as some would feel that I have somewhat of a “conflict of interest” on the topic because I am a TTC Operator. However, I am happy to see that this discussion has been very reasonable and has not turned into a “Union-Bashing Fest”. Prior to being employed by the TTC, I worked in the private sector for several different companies – one of which had a sizable unionized work-force (I held a non-unionized position) which allowed the non-unionized staff to have quite excellent benefits. I can see both sides of the issue and have looked at the City’s offer. It seems quite fair to me overall, but the issue of the payout of the Sick Bank seems a little weak. My feeling is that if the City were to strengthen the “Grandfathering” by a little bit, this will allow for a resolution.

    You are correct in your assessment that the current situation is the result of the Mike Harris forced amalgamation and subsequent downloading. The rightwing group of councillors are very scary with some of their ideas, but can’t seem to develop a comprehensive long-term policy.

    The “scorched-earth public service” policies of the rightwing as mentioned by Andrew Marshall would be the reality. I can easily see Transit City totally eliminated, and the TTC privitized with a resultant massive reduction in service as only “profitable” transit lines would remain. The “mantra” of the rightwing is privitize or contract out to the lowest bidder. The mess after four years is something that I don’t think we want to see. Transit advocates such as yourself (and most posters to this blog) would not recognize the remains of our transit system.


  12. Steve as someone who works with federal civil servants (but in a non-union uniformed service), I can say that I have observed practices that are both good and bad in the public sector. Overall though I would argue that the public sector vastly overpays at the bottom while it generally tends to be stingy at the top.

    The problem I have with municipal unions (and they generally seem to be most demanding and most militant of the entire public sector) is that there has been a marked decline or at least a stagnation in productivity growth that has led to a gross disparity with the private sector. This may not be for every job or service. But its certainly true on the less skilled end of the business. – Local 79 Offer – Local 416 Offer

    Now there’s a lot of jobs on there that I have no problem giving a raise to. But is there any particular reason that a cashier makes $25 per hour. That’s quite a step above giving a decent wage and an absolute appalling practice to pay a city cashier 2.5X what a cashier in a regular retail store makes and then expect the retail worker to support tax hikes to pay somebody doing the same job they are, and arguably with less productivity, 2.5X more.

    When it comes to the trash collectors, have a gander at this Star article:

    The unionized trash collectors make 20% more and work 50% less and they get vastly superior benefits compared to their non-union counterparts. Now I would not advocate a race to the bottom. But is it not reasonable for the city to expect that its labour force perform on par with the private sector for activities that are directly comparable (your job in the school board for example would not have a private sector equivalent because of the scale of IT in the education sector)? Or at least relatively close … And all this talk about productivity and pay does not even include out-of-date practices like the TTC paying booth jockeys 50k a year to do a job that a 5k machine could do.

    As for why it’s about garbage … well, the unions chose to make the strike about garbage when they decided to make residents line up for hours to drop off their trash. In doing so, they are going beyond imposing inconvenience and moving towards behaviour that promotes illegal dumping and possibly even violence (from flaring tempers from those waiting for hours). I consider that an unreasonable bargaining tactic.

    Finally, it’s not like the city is replacing the bankable sick days with nothing. They are offering a short-term disability that would benefit many workers (particularly newer and younger workers who won’t have as many days banked). And they are offering decent cash bonuses to the older folks who are being forced to give up their sick days. So what’s unreasonable in what the city is offering? Yet, we look around and see the unions striking in the middle of a recession, refusing reasonable demands, demanding benefits not commensurate with their productivity, and to top it all off using strike tactics designed to go well beyond minor inconveniences for the public into outright contempt for the city’s residents.

    Steve: Jobs comparable to those at TDSB IT exist in the private sector, but specialists working on large systems command premium salaries or work as freelancers. Organizations where IT (or any other technical field) is not the primary business tend to undervalue their technical staff as job evaluation grids focus on different types of skills. Banks, on the other hand, live and die on their IT infrastructure.

    As for “booth jockeys” as you call them, a recent arbitration award ranked them lower than operators, but not enough lower to be in a separate pay category. Moreover, the decision raised that shared category one level in the TTC/ATU payscale. This is an example of the danger of arbitrated awards imposing a different outcome than expected or preferred by management.


  13. Addressing this notion that we should be grateful to the unions for all the great things we enjoy … well where are the unions for the working poor today? I would argue that public sector unions today are to labour what hedge funds are to the corporate sector. Big labour is not all that different from big business. Both care about themselves, and lack agility and adaptability. The key difference for the public sector being that the fountain won’t run dry. This has made the public sector a tempting target for big labour while the unions ignore the vast private sector (which really generates society’s wealth) and particularly the worst off of the participants in that sector. If unions truly care about labour conditions they would worry less about unionized city employees and more about Starbucks baristas.

    I’ll support the unions when they start fighting for those who work 10-12 hours a day making $12/hr in retail, restaurants, call centres, etc. I don’t buy the argument that their working conditions will somehow improve if the rest of us support better benefits for public sector unions.

    Steve: Two points here. First, there have been attempts to organize staff in the fast food industry, but this tends to run aground due to employer practices and the decentralized nature of the operations, most of which are franchises, not corporate, and therefore independent employers. Second, whether or not the Starbucks at Queen and Bay is a union shop has nothing to do with negotiations for existing and future CUPE city workers.

    One major change in the “modern” economy is that it is much easier to ship skilled jobs overseas, and this puts unions in a fundamentally different position from the days when a company would have a fortune invested in domestic capacity and moving their operations elsewhere would be difficult if not impossible.


  14. Steve,

    I’d agree with you that what happens at Starbucks is not necessarily relevant to existing and future CUPE negotiations. However, if someone is going to argue that ALL workers should be grateful for the current state of workers across the realm than it’s entirely fair to assess whether organized labour is indeed doing its bit to protect workers from being exploited or rather sticking solely to low hanging fruit. And this is a point that seems to come up every time any union goes how strike. They constantly seem to argue that anybody who does not support them is not grateful for workers rights today and that their losses constitute the slippery slope back to slavery.

    On your other point about outsourcing and its impact on labour in the private sector. I share your concerns. However, I still don’t see how any of this can be tied in to the demands of our public sector. They are not at risk to be outsourced any time soon. Even in a recession, their ranks are growing. And while a bank might not think twice about offshoring its IT farms to Bangalore, there is no way any public sector outfit (federal, provincial or municipal) would do the same. Given this situation, is it fair then for public sector workers to constantly demand more from taxpayers who face threats to their livelihoods far beyond the comprehension (it seems at times) of public servants. For example, surely in a time of recession like now, we’d be better served by hiring more workers and paying each one less (spreading the wealth around). There are after all large numbers of students who still can’t find part-time work. Where’s the compassion for them?

    Steve: Actually, I wouldn’t be too sure about public sector jobs if the right wing really got its hands on things. Recently, it was revealed that a local newspaper is pushing some of its editorial functions offshore. Local writers will still cover stories, but a lot of the work of actually laying out the paper will be done in India. I suspect it would be possible to move a lot of back-office functions for the civil service out of the country, but this would be politically untenable. How, for example, could a government boost employment outside of major urban areas if it couldn’t open new government offices there?


  15. Sorry steve, but all I read out of this whole thing is “I support the 18 sick days”. I think most Torontonians want what’s fair, and want a fair deal, and most agree with me that 18 sick days a year with rollover is not fair.

    Steve: It’s not the number of sick days, but the banking with no upper limit that bothers me. I say this as someone who retired with an immense sick bank because I was almost never ill in a quarter century of work.

    Something that has not been mentioned here is that a non-trivial number of people have legitimate medical conditions that cause brief absences from time to time. If the number of sick days is small, the loss of pay and/or vacation can constitute a form of discrimination against them. I can hear the chorus now — you would never see this in the private sector — and my response is that this is an excellent example of a benefit obtained by unions for the betterment of working conditions.

    If we tried to legislate this sort of thing (say with some sort of lefty-pinko government), the business community would rail against it (just as they once did against five-day weeks and paid holidays) claiming that we could not be competitive in world markets if we were so generous to our staff.


  16. Hi Steve.

    Something that you had mentioned in an earlier post has me quite nervous concerning this strike and that is the effect that it will have on Miller. The union appears to be turning on the most supportive regime that it has had in years. I am sure that the right is gearing up to make a full run at both the mayor and council. Quite frankly, I find the very idea that Paul Godfrey and his back room crew having a chance to regain power very unsettling. Like Miller or not, he has worked hard to push the city forward in the areas of transit, infrastructure, waste collection, and policing and reverse the problem that those guys left behind.


  17. I am afraid of one BIG change in the near future. The city and the region have battled hard to get PUBLIC infrastructure on the table. It has become “politically correct” again. GO TRANSIT (or Metrolinx) can dream and propose to expand the rail service to Bowmanville (for example). The Niagara service has to be tuned-up (judging from earlier comments) but it can be done. Federal govt. and CN are going to combine for a triple- or quadro-tracking east towards to Montreal. Yet here we have a Public sector union at a time of risky flu-epidemic (H1N1) and they say – we see nothing!!


  18. I’m left wondering if the ‘aggrieved homeowners’ are allowed in your ‘inclusive, plural’ voice?

    Steve: Homeowners have their own complaints, but it’s important to remember that they are not all CUPE’s doing. First off, the education portion of your taxes is set by Queen’s Park, and in Toronto they are substantially higher than needed to run the Toronto schools. This is a direct money grab from “rich” Toronto to subsidize the rest of the province, and is a good chunk of the difference between 416 and 905 tax rates overall.

    Second, property taxes for homeowners were kept lower than rates on commercial properties for years. The right-wing business community, painting this as an unfair subsidy and a burden on the competitiveness of the 416, lobbied for and obtained a gradual rebalancing of rates that is still working its way through implementation. I believe that at least one percent of the annual tax increase on owner-occupied homes for a few years, and for several to come, is a direct result of this change.

    Neither of these arrangements has anything to do with the lefties on Council.

    I notice a number of comments correlating ‘right wing’ governments with ‘labour bashing’. However, it has been left-wing govenments that have actually abrogated collective agreements (at least going by recent Canadian history.) In Ontario, The Rae Government temporarily rolled back wages and imposed forced days off. The Quebec in the early 1980’s, the PQ government permanently rolled back many public sector wages by 19%.

    Meanwhile, the Harris government in Ontario extended and expanded parental leave – to the chagrin of small business owners.

    Steve: I won’t make comments about left-wing governments inheriting the mess left by others and being forced into public sector cutbacks to balance the books.

    There are a number of reasons younger people may not see government agencies as employers of choice.

    First, they view these organizations as being overly bureaucratic.

    2nd, they may not place the same value on benefits such as the sick day benefit. They’d rather have more salary. [This is why many private employers offer flexible benefits – to allow each employee to choose which extra benefits are important for him or herself.]

    3rd – the unionized environment is a turnoff for many – it means a confrontational workplace, and moving ahead by seniority instead of by merit. Younger people are idealistic – and these are not attractive facets in a workplace.

    Steve: The unionized environment may be a turn off, at least until you get assigned a job you don’t want at poor hours with nobody to stick up for you. Advancement by seniority generally applies to competitions where skills of the applicants have already been deemed to be equal. The big problem for managers is a bureaucratic system that makes it hard to tailor jobs to changing needs of organizations, and we are left soliciting candidates for jobs with inappropriate descriptions and requirements. This is as much a management problem as a union one.


  19. One additional comment would seem to be in order here.

    July 20th, 2009 at 6:17 pm Keith L Says: “And all this talk about productivity and pay does not even include out-of-date practices like the TTC paying booth jockeys 50k a year to do a job that a 5k machine could do.” Steve responded: “As for “booth jockeys” as you call them, a recent arbitration award ranked them lower than operators, but not enough lower to be in a separate pay category. Moreover, the decision raised that shared category one level in the TTC/ATU payscale. This is an example of the danger of arbitrated awards imposing a different outcome than expected or preferred by management.”

    Using the term “Booth Jockey” is very derogatory and shows a total lack of knowledge about this particular position and its various responsibilities. I had the unfortunate circumstance of having to perform “light duties” on a crash gate recently due to not being able to drive a bus because of illness and had an oppurtunity to see what goes on in this position. As well, I know numerous collectors who are in this position for medical reasons that keep them from driving duties.

    The responsibilities of this job are far beyond sitting in the booth collecting fares and selling fare media.

    It is certainly interesting how TTC Operators and Collectors have been dragged into a discussion about the CUPE strike! The recent arbitration award that saw Operators and Collectors raised UP one pay level goes back to 2002. The TTC management has been fighting this Job Evaluation tooth and nail since then. TTC Management has rejected THREE independent studies with regard to this and it finally went to binding arbitration to be settled. This is one of the strengths of the unionized environment in that ATU113 kept this fight up for seven years.


  20. As a now former Torontonian (recently moved to Woodbridge), I will say that without any doubt that the Toronto I used to live in did nothing for me. It is not about the “perceived right to have the City and its agencies (and everyone else’s taxes) give them ideal services with nothing in return.” Far from it. This is more about the quality of city services eroding while the cost to maintain these services goes up. When you have certain workers who are more concerned about their break time than running the city, it asks questions about who truly is in control of the city: the unions, or the people. The past days have led me to believe that the welfare of Toronto has been hijacked by the self-interests of a selfish few. This perception of present union mentality has been rising up over recent days, from the TTC strike to the current one. Gone are the days where people worked hard for their money, it is now about doing less for more.

    There have been ads commissioned by CUPE blaring on radios that “highlight” the “poor treatment” the city levies on to its employees. These ads also seem to place the importance of the workers over pretty much everyone else at City Hall and say that “without its workers, the City would cease to exist”. This is the typical union attitude that has basically tired me of this city and eventually made me a Toronto expat. The unions need to understand that Management is about as important as its workers, and not less. CUPE also exhorts the public to look at the real issues and that they affect the lives of Torontonians, translation: they want their cake and eat it too.

    It also doesn’t help that Mayor Miller and co voted themselves a salary increase while rendering non-union employees with pay freezes and pay cuts. Had Miller followed his own example and legislated a pay freeze or pay cut, then his efforts to deal with the strike would bear more credit. As it stands now, there is increasing perception that Miller does not know how to handle this strike. Also, sentiment is increasing that Miller kowtowed to the unions’ demands at every turn only to find out that following those demands was no longer possible.

    Makes you wonder, who was it who instituted the rolling sick-bank? I agree with many posters that the sick-bank issue is overly generous and not evenly applied to all public-sector unions. I also applaud the city’s effort to wind down this outrageous benefit. A former aquaintance of mine who works as a nurse has as many as 42 sick days (hey, nurses have to be healthy in order to do their job). However, such a benefit does not carry over. Many places of work, union or non union, do allow for generous vacation benefits most of which do carry over. Credit does go to the city for recognizing it and preferring either a buyout of sick days benefits, or grandfathering those benefits to existing employees and a general sick-day provision for all newer ones. For those who are concerned about long term or short term disability, does the City have an insurance provider that confers this benefit? I was recently in the hospital after an accident which had me miss 3 months of work for recovery, my insurance provider supplied me with 85% of my salary for the time off. I still have at least a month of Vacation accumulated over my years in service and plan to use that when my wife gives birth later this year.

    Someone said that the union itself is too big and needs to be broken up so that such a strike does not cripple the city as it is now. While this argument is valid, you risk the problem with constantly dealing with the unions. One union’s contract is finalized, but the next needs to be done. This drives up negotiation costs. However, I am in favour of the argument if only to separate the Garbagemen from the outside-workers union. Keith has it right: the Garbagemen do not do enough to justify how much they are making, especially since they make as much as I do as a software developer even though I spent 4 years and a ton of cash in post-secondary education. Regarding the Toronto Star article that Keith pointed out, the private garbagemen do make an amount which I call more than fair, although I would say that sick days should be necessary in any workplace, especially in private collection. Privatization is indeed a viable option and it comes as no surprise that the current municipal government refuses to touch this with a ten foot pole. There are a lot of services run by the union which are not necessarily essential and could benefit from outsourcing.

    I will concede that the Unions are responsible for much of the benefits that we receive today. But it doesn’t mean that the Unions should run roughshod over their employers for more and more (although right now it is to keep “what they have”). This is creating an environment in which the Union, by day and by night, is creating more enemies. They may eventually get what they want, but at what price to the city and its people? Miller may likely be gone in the next election and the Unions may find themselves up against a brick wall against his successor. And Steve has a point: all the hard work geared towards Transit may be undone by whoever this successor will be. If that happens, no union will ever have my sympathy.


  21. I think that garbage collection should be open to tender, but the union should be given the right to match any offer. What I mean is given the union’s offer of salary/benefits and operational costs of garbage collection (trucks, fuel, maintanance, etc) a total cost of the contract over its length can be estimated. Private companies should then be invited to bid on this contract with the understanding that they must be lower than the union’s offer. If any company does submit a lower offer, the union should have the right to match (i.e. take lower pay/benefits but remain employed). This process would be continued until the service provider at lowest cost is chosen.

    There is no reason why garbage collection should be the sole responsibility of the city. It could even be up to each resident to find/select their own provider of the service whether private or public. Let’s say each resident has to submit a form to city hall with the name of the company providing garbage collection to them and the terms of the contract. If no such form is filed then it defaults to the municipal service and the garbage collection fee is added to the property taxes. This way if a household needs more frequent garbage collection than that provided by the city they can make a suitable contract with a private company.

    Steve: Your proposal would have the effect of at least two, possibly more, providers of garbage pickup services trolling down streets to pick up “their” garbage. The idea that residents should be responsible for organizing their own pickup assumes that they can do so on an informed basis. Municipal governments exist to provide common services, not to foist them on the citizenry. Maybe we should convert streets to private roads, set up competing utility companies to deliver services like water.


  22. I agree with you that the right people weren’t displaced at TDSB, for the right reasons.

    I wouldn’t ask a stupid question
    “well because i know”

    A real leader would rather say, “there are no stupid questions, only unanswered ones”
    — but you don’t expect that clear thought in a bureaucracy of any type.

    It is how all bureaucracies work; aristocrats float up and everyone else sinks, kinda like a homegrown dynasty; and it is always easier to get rid of the masses than the leadership (because they aren’t in the same club), not that I have that much respect for leadership, which is as often as not a case of been there too long and too tired to think, create adapt or change…

    We all owe a lot to Unions and their struggle against overt capitalism, which seeks only to make profit and damn the consequences.

    I often think, that the MO of organizations of all stripes: liberal, conservative is “if it is not illegal, it is legal”.

    I believe that CUPE actions during the garbage strike were over the top, and quite illegal. I don’t think any citizen should have been prevented from disposing of his garbage at a designated dump site. However, the fact that the city council did not seek injunctions to prevent that behaviour was the main reason it was allowed to continue.

    Steve: It is unclear to whom the above is addressed as “a real leader”. Also, you seem to be conflating the bureaucratic world with the political — they are very different, each with its own culture.

    I agree that CUPE’s actions at the dump sites during the strike were reprehensible and served only to poison relations with the public, their only possible source of support for better wages. Instead of hard-working deserving civic employees, the image people saw was goons.

    As for the bargaining itself, I think the tactic of releasing the City’s offer publicly was a brilliant stroke. It allowed the City to go over the heads of the Union bargaining committee and talk directly to the rank-and-file. Unions hate that, but have no compunction about conducting a one-sided PR campaign of their own.

    The recent attempt to bar the Mayor from the Labour Day Parade was pure childishness. If organized labour works against Miller in the next election, they have only themselves to blame if he loses and the new Council actively pursues outsourcing. Have the unions forgotten Mike Harris, the man they helped elect by fighting Bob Rae?


  23. Steve said: It is unclear to whom the above is addressed as “a real leader”. Also, you seem to be conflating the bureaucratic world with the political — they are very different, each with its own culture

    You’re right, I guess I consider a bureaucracy to be a culture for practical politics (politicking), but then historical distinctions aren’t always my cup of tea.

    About that real leaders is a general comment about what passes for leadership/management in organizations of any type: public or private

    Steve said: As for the bargaining itself, I think the tactic of releasing the City’s offer publicly was a brilliant stroke.

    Yes, it was smart, as a tactic to get the public on your side, and since CUPE had already lost any favour, by being thuggish on the trash sites, it was certainly a good tactical move. The only question, in the aftermath became what D. Miller knew or said about the bargaining committee, and what he relayed to the city council about the contract provisions, and the council’s vote on the contract.

    Fairly obviously (apart from the few chickens) no-one could seriously vote against ending the strike, so you might say D. Miller was quite smart in both the public domain and the political one; inside the council.

    Steve: Actually the right wing was playing chicken and the vote wasn’t certain until near the end of the debate.

    Steve said: The recent attempt to bar the Mayor from the Labour Day Parade was pure childishness. If organized labour works against Miller in the next election, they have only themselves to blame if he loses and the new Council actively pursues outsourcing.

    I agree, not necessary and a bad political move on the Union’s part.

    The outsourcing idea, which is anathema to most unions, because it displaces the workers and the fees they pay (Unions can be capitalistic as well), is quite debatable as a panacea to resolve all issues. It may or may not cost less; the jury is often divided (probably depends how you count).

    The other childish comments that appeared after the contract had been acknowledged was of the like “we shouldn’t pay those union goons overtime” to pick up the garbage, they will make most of their strike time-out in overtime pay. That is pretty irrelevant and only represents the pettiness of public and some politicians opinions. I call it grandstanding.

    Steve: Also, most CUPE members were not in jobs that ran up lots of overtime after the strike, and they suffered the full brunt of lost wages.


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