The City of Toronto’s new Mayors (there are two mayors in practice–elected Mayor Rob and his Councillor brother Doug, who acts like he’s the mayor) was elected recently on a mandate of little more than a promise to cut spending and contract out unionized jobs. That was about the extent of the political vision offered, but it was enough to get him elected. Yesterday, a committee stacked with the Mayor’s supporters voted 4-2 to terminate some 300 unionized garbage collectors and put their jobs up for tender to the private sector.
For my HR students who learn about how to properly evaluate employees and treat them “fairly”, note that these employees are losing their jobs not because they are poor workers–the employer has done no evaluation of their work whatsoever. The City politicians have promised to get rid of unionized public sector jobs and argue that they can find people willing to do their jobs for less money, so they’re gone.
The Cost Debate
The Mayors and their supporters argue that this process will save the City “$8 million” per year. That is a matter of some faith, since a variety of studies show that public garbage collection works out to be cheaper than private garbage collection. As is typical, organizations known to be against unions and government (like the C.D. Howe Institute and the Board of Trade) not surprisingly conclude that private garbage collection is cheaper, and organizations that favour strong government services find the opposite.
Here is a CUPE study showing public garbage collection is cheaper.
Here is a C.D. Howe study showing public garbage collection is more expensive.
You can pick the study that best suites your ideology. That’s what politicians do. Five years from now, we will still be debating whether the contracting out saved the City any money, because the answer will depend on debates about how to calculate the cost and/or savings. I live in the area where garbage is being contracted out to the lowest bidder, so I will let you know if my service improves or gets worse.
The Sad State of Political Discourse
The right to strike is one of the key features that distinguishes democracies from dictatorships. The recent fall of the Egyptian regime was due in large measure to the bravery of striking workers, who put their safety and livelihood on the line to fight for democracy. Canada is a signatory to international human rights instruments that require governments to respect a right to strike of all workers, subject only to a few narrow exceptions relating to police, military, and jobs that protect health and safety. You get the idea. The right to strike is an important democratic principle steeped in long history. Here is a nice piece by Professor Servais from the Canadian Labour and Employment Law Journal explaining the importance of the right to strike in international law.
At yesterday’s council meeting, Councillors mocked and chastised CUPE workers who had the audacity to exercise their legal right to strike. Some, like Councillor Nunziata and Councillor Mommoliti felt that the legal CUPE garbage strike last year was relevant to the decision to contract out the CUPE jobs. Nunziata mocked union members, suggesting that evidence of their poor performance was found in the decision to strike:
The message is clear from our elected officials. Although you have a legal right to strike–as will the employees of whatever private company wins the bid–you should never actually exercise that right, and if you do, this government will punish you for it. If an employer threatened its workers with contracting out if they go on strike, that would be a breach of Section 72 of the Labour Relations Act. Nunziata’s comments are more mocking than threatening given the context. But the comments by Nunziata and the other anti-union Councillors who explained the decision to terminate unionized workers by referencing last years’ strike are highly inappropriate and unprofessional. They run completely counter to the policy expressed in the Labour Relations Act, which is intended to ensure workers that they will not be punished for exercising their legal rights.
Don’t you find the mocking, sarcastic tone of the Councillors, who have just sent 3oo of their employees to the unemployment line, extremely distasteful? Three hundred Toronto families just received devastating news. When did mass firings become a reason for celebration?
Unfortunately, the level of political discourse in Toronto has fallen into the garbage heap.
Is there a grievance in the works?
Lastly, the CUPE president hinted yesterday that the City may have violated the collective agreement in the manner in which it has implemented the contracting out so far. Mark Ferguson said this:
“I know how the collective agreement operates and what the past practices have been in the delivery of information. If you want to change those past practices I would suggest you do so at the bargaining table and not midway through a collective agreement.”
Hhmmm. This sounds like a set up for a grievance alleging a change in past practice that violates the agreement. I don’t know what that is about. But we will keep our ears to the ground. Can anyone at CUPE provide us with any insight into this issue?