What’s at stake for Toronto municipal workers

By Gerard Di Trolio

Contract talks between the City of Toronto and 28,000 of its employees are going down to the wire. As of 12:01 a.m. on February 19, CUPE Local 416 representing outside workers at the City of Toronto will be in a legal strike position. CUPE Local 79 representing inside workers will be in a strike position at 12:01 a.m. on February 20.pixlr

While both locals are prepared to keep negotiating beyond the deadlines, negotiations remain deadlocked around several key issues.

“First and foremost, the main issue is stability,” says CUPE Local 79 President Tim Maguire. “For temporary workers it means the city should be posting more of its full time jobs. There 2500 to 3000 vacancies at the city. The city should be posting them. For part-time workers, we’re looking for more stability in how members are scheduled. Not only is important to have a minimum level of hours, so people aren’t waiting by the phone to find out when their next shift is, but an increase of stability and predictability with schedules.”

According to CUPE Local 416 President Matt Alloway, cuts to benefits and sick time are also top issues at the bargaining table.

With the strike deadlines only days away, both Local 79 and 416 proposed a framework to solve the impasse on Wednesday.

“It’s based on five key points,” says Alloway. “Job security, protecting job postings and placement procedures. Benefits, we want to ensure a healthy workforce. The third point is gender equity in the workplace. We’re looking for a modest wage increase that isn’t outside the norm to what the city has agreed to in other contracts including councillors themselves. And no concessions.”

While the framework is seeking no concessions, the locals have removed many of their demands from the bargaining table.

“We had a wishlist. The city also identified they had a wishlist. But with ours, we’ve re-prioritized that. We’ve pulled dozens of those issues we’ve previously tabled off of the table,” says Alloway. “We’re serious about getting a collective agreement. We want to avoid a service disruption. We’re hoping that this will allow the city to take us seriously so they will comeback to the table and we can meet half way.”

The city had told CUPE that their original proposed demands would cost over $9 million, however that projection was not confirmed.

For their part, the city has been asking for benefits concessions including the use of only generic drugs where available, a prescription to access physiotherapy coverage, and higher payments for dental and life insurance coverage.

CUPE has signalled they want to work with the city to find efficiencies without sacrifices to benefits or pay.

“We put forward a plan, instead of deep cuts [to benefits] that would take hundreds of thousands of dollars from our members’ pockets to pay for a benefit plan that the city has sometimes misadministered, to finding solutions looking at cost savings and efficiencies together. Pooling the number of people in the plan, etc.,” says Maguire.

These negotiations take place in the shadow of the city’s annual budget negotiations which concluded on Wednesday. For the first time ever, the policing budget has exceeded $1 billion while many other departments received either small increases or were told to reduce costs.

CUPE has been paying close attention to these budget negotiations. Maguire notes that the city is not spending enough on human services, “You can’t build a city using only bricks and mortar or transit. You need to invest in social infrastructure. There are a lot of people, including the city manager who says the city needs to look at revenue tools [taxes and fees]. The city has yet to tackle this issue.”

The last time CUPE Locals 79 and 416 went on the picket lines was in 2009 in a strike that lasted 36 days.

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One thought on “What’s at stake for Toronto municipal workers

  1. Many thanks to rankandfile.ca for posting this article and to the author for starting the conversation about Toronto municipal workers and the current struggle for a fair contract. I am a member of CUPE 79 and would like to make a few off-the-cuff points(in no particular order):

    – John Tory’s regime is asking for much greater cuts than Rob Ford ever did.
    – CUPE 416 and 79 had a strategy of trying to confront the employer together. Thus when the city asked for a No Board Report for the 416 negotiations, an hour later CUPE 79 asked for one as well.
    – The city has a strategy of isolating 416, forcing them into accepting a concessions filled deal, then pushing 79 to accept a similar deal.
    – CUPE 416 has a leadership that has been appointed, not elected, by CUPE National.
    – Having an appointed leadership creates the conditions whereby there is even less direct pressure on the leadership from the membership. In short, whatever the extreme limitations of bureaucratic trade unionism, it makes a difference if the leadership is elected or appointed from without.
    – Despite having previously stated that they will not accept a deal that is laden with deep cut backs to benefits and sick pay, the leadership of CUPE 416 have reached an agreement that appears to do just that. To paraphrase Tory, the tentative deal reached with 416 is within the framework of what the city’s original [concession deep] proposal was. During last night’s CUPE 79 teleconference town hall meeting, the president of CUPE 79 would not speak specifically to what was in the tentative agreement reached with 416. He did, however, confirm that the city’s offer is filled with almost all the concessions, including cuts to sick days, benefits, that they city has been after from the start and stated that CUPE 79 will not accept this offer.
    – Why would two unions who have the same employer, are facing the same attacks, and who have an agreed upon strategy to collaborate bargaining strategy react so differently to what in many ways is the same offer? I believe one of the reasons is because of the unelected nature of the CUPE 416 leadership which I’ve mentioned above.
    – There is also the matter of the difference in the membership between 416 and 79. CUPE 79 is 75% female with a heavy preponderance of part-time or temporary (i.e. precarious) work. Tory is attempting to make work even more precarious in this round of negotiations by including contract language that will enable this. This is not a concern for 416 but is for 79.
    – Having said all this, I don’t want people to think that what is being played out here is the old crisis of leadership argument that so many leftists have used as a template for many decades. It is not as if members of either union are agitating for a strike only to be misled by an opportunistic leadership. The talk on the office floor is of fear, political pessimism, and hope for a negotiated settlement. Mixed in with this, is an eagerness to keep all their benefits and sick days, and being down-right pissed off at the concessions with each new contract.
    – Another point that needs further discussion is the strategy that both CUPE 79 and 416 have had since the last negotiations in 2012. How well have they reached out to anti-cuts groups in order to breathe life into the Toronto activist scene? Is changing the public perception via bus shelter ads the best way to build union strength? What does it mean to build union strength in an era of neo-liberalism when most workers are politically pessimistic?

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