Posts Tagged: labour relations

Feb 12

Labour Crisis Averted

Torontoist’s Hamutal Dotan:

In a press conference at 8:30 this morning, CUPE 416 president Mark Ferguson announced that negotiators has reached a tentative deal with the City of Toronto. CUPE 416, which represents approximately 6,000 outside workers, had been in the midst of what everyone described as an incredibly contentious bargaining process—a view Ferguson reinforced today when he called the course of discussions with the City “one of the toughest labour negotiations in Canadian history.” No details of the deal were released this morning but Ferguson called the agreement thus far a “working framework” and added that the union had made “numerous concessions” in order to get to an agreement.

via Outside Workers Reach Tentative Deal with the City | Torontoist.

Geez. I sure predicted wrong on this one. I was almost 100% sure that the city’s move to unilaterally impose terms would push Toronto toward a work stoppage. I was very surprised — the good kind of surprised — to hear that a deal had been reached yesterday morning.

The union came into these negotiations in a tough position. The 2009 strike was devastating for them in a bunch of ways. It damaged their relationship with a labour-friendly mayor, sparked questions-of-confidence amongst their membership, turned most of the public against them and contributed to the landslide electoral victory of a mayor who publicly refers to workers as “garbage.” As far as dumb decisions go, walking off the job for 40 days over a sick bank issue has to be a Hall of Fame contender.

And so the stage has always been set for this to be a negotiation where the union would have to make concessions. As Adam Vaughan told the Toronto Star’s Linda Diebel, “CUPE is remarkably, profoundly aware of the (public relations) problem they face over the 2009 strike.” And to CUPE President Mark Ferguson’s credit, the union were conciliatory from the outset, offering both a pay freeze and some latitude on the “jobs for life” thing. This willingness to make concessions contrasted with a negotiating strategy from the city that was designed to make the union look like uncompromising bullies — and it was that contrast that make a negotiated settlement look so unlikely heading into this weekend.

Any real analysis of who “won” this particular labour battle is premature until we know more about the deal that was reached, but, in the public eye, this outcome will undoubtedly stand as a victory for the mayor. Rob Ford does deserve credit for being open to a compromise solution, and sparing the city yet another work stoppage. I underestimated him on this one.

Also, selfishly: can I say how glad I am that I won’t have to write about labour issues for the next few months? Feel like I dodged a bullet.

Nov 11

Rebuilding Ford Nation: can a war with the unions save our unpopular mayor?

It’s been lurking in the shadows of other news stories for months now — I hoped it would just go away — but this week it’s become clear that there is no avoiding it: we’re going to spend the next six months talking about unions.

The Globe & Mail’s Patrick White & Tu Thanh Ha:

Demands made by the city to its 8,000 outside workers run the gamut from an elimination of premium night-shift pay to the termination of some job-security clauses, according to a copy of a 21-page bargaining proposal obtained by The Globe and Mail.

Spanning more than 40 individual concessions, the document amounts to a fundamental overhaul of the municipality’s relationship with public-sector unions, fanning concerns that the city is in store for a prolonged work stoppage.

via City of Toronto document outlines demands it seeks from unions | Globe & Mail.

What should be early-stage private negotiations between the city and the union — the current contract doesn’t expire until December 31 — quickly became public, which indicates that one side really isn’t interested in reaching a settled agreement. And given that only one side has much to gain from a protracted dispute, all indications point to Rob Ford’s team working an angle. They want to force a public labour battle which will probably include a lock-out.

From a purely dollars-and-cents perspective, it’s not entirely clear why. The Globe has a term-paper-sized list of demands-for-concessions issued by the city, some of which seem driven by a desire to contain costs, but others, oddly, seem fairly arbitrary. Are there significant savings to be had from killing, for example, “a joint union/management committee aimed at creating a ‘clean and beautiful City?'”

What’s the city’s — and by that I mean, mostly, the mayor’s office — end goal with this play? How much money does the city need to save to balance the budget over the course of the new contract? Are there other ways to achieve those savings that won’t result in a nasty work stoppage? Has anyone even considered that question?

Or do we just want war?

Ford Nation: Riding an anti-union wave back to the top

A war with the unions isn’t a bad strategy for Rob Ford. It was, after all, a pre-emptive war with unions that brought him to the mayor’s office.

Public sector unions are not very popular. There’s no getting around this. Many of the strategic moves made by the various public sector unions through the David Miller years — things like the midnight TTC strike and some of the tactics during the 2009 feud — were serious missteps that didn’t do anything good for their public support. That there was so much labour strife during a period where the political power was firmly in the hands of a labour-friendly mayor and council doesn’t speak well of the union leaders’ ability to fairly negotiate within the bounds of fiscal reality.

And, yes, I know that the ins-and-outs of contracts and negotiation are far more complicated than I just portrayed them, but perception is what it is. It’s hard to change.

And so, absent effective counter-messaging from the union, this looming debate will go this way: even though the winter work stoppage will most likely be a lock-out, not a strike, a good portion of the public will treat it like a strike, and blame the union for the cessation in public services. Rather than think of this dispute in terms of the city’s budget — how much the union wants, and how much the city needs to save — pundits and columnists and talk radio callers will endlessly pontificate on the role of unions in the public sector and the modern economy. The arguments will descend to the point they always do, with one person essentially whining that another person gets better benefits and higher pay than they do.

Very few will stop to consider whether we should be building up wages and benefits across the private sector, instead of tearing them down in the public sector.

And so the mayor takes his position as the guy standing tough against those who would exploit the taxpayers. And, lo, on the horizon, is that Ford Nation rising again?

Oct 11

What contracted out garbage means — and doesn’t mean

The Toronto Star’s Paul Moloney:

Starting next August, a private company will be collecting household garbage from 165,000 homes west of Yonge St. to the Humber River and from Lake Ontario to Steeles Ave.

The campaign promise of Mayor Rob Ford was fulfilled when city council voted 26-16 Monday to award the job to GFL Environmental East Corporation, of Pickering.

The company, which collects garbage in Hamilton and Oshawa-Whitby, beat out other competitors by offering to do the work for seven years at a $78.4 million saving, or about $11.2 million a year less than unionized city workers.

via City approves private garbage pickup | Toronto Star.

I don’t have a ton to write on this, as it is a relatively minor shift when compared to some of the other policy this administration has their collective eye on. But, given that the mayor is likely to highlight this “victory” in every speech he’ll make from now until the Leafs win the Stanley Cup, let’s spend a little bit of time talking about what contracted out garbage in District 2 means — and more importantly, doesn’t mean — to the city of Toronto.

  • It means risk: I wrote about this last week as well, but I don’t think council or staff did anywhere near their due diligence when it came time to vet this bid. It is such a suspiciously lowball bid that even GFL’s competitors were wondering how they managed to make their numbers work. And that’s where the risk comes in, because it’s entirely possible that the numbers won’t work, and the city will be left holding the bag — or bin — when GFL either goes bankrupt or simply decides they want out of the deal.
  • It doesn’t mean better service: Service quality is a bit of a question mark going forward. When he appeared with Josh Matlow on NewsTalk 1010, Public Works Chair Denzil Minnan-Wong would only commit to service bring provided at the same level as it is currently.
  • It doesn’t mean budgetary savings that can be used on things like libraries and transit: This is the point that will continuously get overlooked again and again, and it’s so critical. Waste collection falls under the city’s rate-based budget, which is separate from the operating budget. Homeowners cover their costs for trash collection through a user fee they pay on their City-issued utility bill. As a result, cheaper waste collection won’t ever mean that there extra funds for the city services that are currently being menaced by men with large knives. It also won’t mean lower property taxes, if that’s the kind of thing that makes you salivate. As far as the all-important taxpayer is concerned, the only fiscal impact as a result of this change might be a freeze or slight decrease in the annual cost of a garbage bin. A medium-sized bin costs less than $50 per year at current rates.

So what happens next? Hopefully very little of interest. Now that council has made this decision, I hope GFL does have a workable business plan that allows them to maintain current service levels at their proposed costs, and that, come next August, those west of Yonge Street don’t even realize that their waste is now being hauled away by people in different trucks, which I assume will be green in colour.

Ford often claims to have a mandate for various things stemming from his one-year-ago-yesterday mayoral win, and often I find such claims pretty damn dubious. On transit, for example — an issue that was shamefully kicked to the back of the bus during most debates so Ford and opponent George Smitherman could rant about waste — I find it hard to buy the notion that the mayor had a real mandate to immediately kill Transit City. But on this issue, his claim was more legitimate.

Setting aside ideology and academic notions about the role of public workers delivering public services, the 2009 garbage strike made a lot of voters really mad, and they channeled that anger into support for a mayoral candidate who continuously promised that his plan to contract out would help avoid future lapses in service.

He’s done that now, at least partially, and expressed a desire to continue with the other districts. We’ll see how it goes.

May 11

Police contract sets the tone, 2012 budget hole gets deeper

The Toronto Star’s Robyn Doolittle:

Mayor Rob Ford’s “rookie mistake” of awarding the police association a 3.19 per cent salary hike could end up costing the city more than $50 million annually, his critics charge.

“This is going to drive every single essential service contract in the city. The city has said it can afford to pay 3 per cent a year. Not only are the firefighters going to get it, but who else is going to now that they’re an essential service? The TTC,” said left-wing councillor Adam Vaughan.

“This will have a ripple through the largest employee groups in the city.”

via Ford’s costly police deal a ‘rookie mistake,’ critics say –

In 2008, an arbitrated settlement between the Police Services Board and the Union saw a new contract with awarded pay raises of just about 10% over three years. 2005 was similar, with a three-year raise of 9.85%. This contract, which didn’t go to arbitration, comes in at about 11%.

Lots has been said about this already — notably by the Posted Toronto Political Panel — but I think it’s important to point out how this deal will highlight the folly that was essential service legislation for the TTC. We have now told transit workers — operators, ticket takers, all of them — that we can’t live a single day without them. As a result, they’re worth more now. Probably a lot more.

That sound you hear is the 2012 budget hole getting deeper.

Is the agreement with the police union necessarily a bad deal? It’s hard to say. An appointed arbitrator may well have awarded the same contract, or an even better contract. With some of the lowest residential property taxes in the GTA, an impartial observer is unlikely to accept that the city can’t come up with the money.

But, coming on the heels of the TTC essential service designation, it definitely makes for a bad situation.

It also will screw with other police boards as they negotiate with their unions. The Ottawa Citizen’s Randall Denley writes about the ripple effect the Toronto deal will have not only in his city, but also provincially when the OPP contract comes due:

The Toronto deal will cost Ottawans more at the provincial level, too, because it will drive up the OPP contract cost. The provincial police have an unusual deal that gives them a raise of 5.075 per cent in the first year, followed by a two-year wage freeze. That doesn’t sound too bad, but there is a special clause for the fourth year that ensures that the OPP will be the province’s highestpaid police service at the end of the contract. The Toronto agreement will add roughly six per cent to the OPP deal.

In Ottawa, every one-percent increase in police wages adds $2 million in costs, so a deal like the one signed in Toronto would cost taxpayers more than $22 million a year by the end of a similar contract.

via Toronto police increase costs us | Ottawa Citizen.

Conservative politicians often talk about how they will get tough with unions, but that rarely materializes. It is far easier to quietly concede, avoiding the damaging political impacts that result from protracted labour disputes. The added cost of the new labour contracts will be partially recouped through service cuts later this year.