Posts Tagged: local 416


6
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.


3
Feb 12

Labour Daze: work stoppage seems likely as city moves to force strike

Because politics in Toronto aren’t already heated and chaotic enough, we got word today that the city is seemingly on course to head straight into a work stoppage situation with its outside worker union. The labour disruption — which could take the form of a lockout or a strike or some kind of work-to-rule thing — could start as soon as Sunday. (Updated for clarity: the union hasn’t scheduled a strike vote so they’re not going to take any immediate action this weekend. We could start to see movement on Sunday, however, depending on the terms the city imposes.)

The tenor of the negotiations between the city and the union changed quickly. It was only yesterday that things looked pretty good, as reported by the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale:

Less than 72 hours before a lockout or strike becomes legal, the leader of the union representing Toronto’s outdoor municipal workers is reporting “significant progress toward successfully concluding an agreement.”

Mark Ferguson, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 416, made the optimistic assessment in a written statement Thursday afternoon.

via Toronto labour fight: As lockout date looms, CUPE reports ‘significant progress’ | Toronto Star.

But then, earlier this morning, we got word that any progress between the two sides had been torpedoed after the city let the union know they’d be unilaterally imposing new contract terms.

The Star’s David Rider:

The Mayor Rob Ford administration has moved aggressively against CUPE Local 416, tabling 11th-hour demands it says will be imposed on 6,000 city workers Sunday whether their union accepts them or not.

The threat — very unusual in the public sector and regarded as a way to get workers to accept an offer or force them to strike — pushes Toronto to the very brink of a work stoppage this weekend by outside workers.

Bruce Anderson, the city’s executive director of human resources, told reporters Friday the demands, suddenly tabled Thursday night after months of bargaining, will be unilaterally imposed at 12:01 a.m. Sunday.

via Take new deal or we’ll impose it, city tells workers | Toronto Star.

The city’s threat basically amounts to this: we’re going to start messing with your jobs. Security provisions will be tossed out and benefit plans changed. The city has even threatened to stop collecting union dues via their payroll system, something which seems extraordinary petty.

The goal seems to be to provoke a strike from the union. The city — and Rob Ford, whose office has a clear hand in these negotiations — seemingly holds the belief that a labour disruption is inevitable. A negotiated settlement is out of the question. (If you believe rumours, a negotiated settlement was always out of the question.) And because a lockout imposed by the city might build public sympathy for the union, forcing a strike is the preferable solution from the city’s perspective.

David Dorey, a professor at York U, has a good run-down of some of the technical details on his blog.

What Next? 

A prolonged labour disruption raises a lot of questions. For instance: how exactly does this help Rob Ford with his mandate to improve customer service across the city? The guy was elected at least partially because of residual anger and bad-feelings stemming from the 2009 strike — and so he responds by taking the city into another one just like it?

Also, back in 2009, Ford was a big proponent of provincial back-to-work legislation as a means to end the dispute. He surely won’t advocate the same this time of around, should the union strike. Why the change of heart?

But really, presuming some kind of work stoppage takes hold next week, everything turns into a PR battle. The union will have to effectively portray themselves as victims of management that never wanted to negotiate in good faith. They’ll have to convince the public that the city always wanted a strike. The city, on the other hand, will talk about how the Ford administration has a strong mandate to rein in costs and take back control of organized labour. They’ll say that the union is being unreasonable.

Don’t kid yourself: public opinion will probably fall squarely on the side of the mayor. In fact, this is undoubtedly a chance for Ford to rebuild some of the popularity he squandered over the last year. There is a strong unshakeable belief amongst many Toronto residents that public sector workers are unfairly overpaid for the work they do.

The union isn’t starting from a strong position. They’ve got some ground to make up.

The Bigger Picture

Meanwhile back at the ranch, I’ve got to wonder if any of this will prove to be worth it. These labour negotiation wheels were set in motion primarily because the mayor wants to contract out a number of city services to the private sector, and that can’t be done with the job security provisions under the current collective agreement.

But is going to all this trouble to chase those contracting-out opportunities even worth it? Are there really enough money-saving opportunities that a prolonged and bitter labour dispute is justified? Wouldn’t it better to pursue a long-term approach, balancing the current collective agreement with contracting-out opportunities that can actually demonstrate value and customer service?

Does it really make sense to let garbage pile up on our streets for months without knowing the answers to these questions?