Outside workers ratify deal while inside workers launch job action
For contract negotiations with municipal workers in Toronto, it would seem like a tale of two cities.
In late February, negotiations that began in the fall between the City of Toronto and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 416 — which represents about 6,000 outside workers — turned up a four-year collective agreement that was ratified unanimously by city council and accepted by the membership.
However, negotiations between CUPE 79 — which represents about 20,000 inside workers — hit an impasse and led to a work-to-rule campaign that is still ongoing.
If negotiations remain deadlocked, there is a possibility inside workers could strike. But both sides have shown a commitment to reaching a deal, despite the hurdles.
Calling the current deal for CUPE 79 "excellent," Mayor John Tory said it was the final offer but added there was always room for negotiation with willing partners.
“The deal with CUPE 416 is a good deal, it is a fair deal — a deal that is fair to both our hardworking staff and respects the taxpayers of the city,” Tory said, adding that city councillors had voted unanimously to accept the deal ratified by membership.
While details were not made public, the contract with Local 416 removed the contentious “jobs for life” clause (which protects unionized workers in cases where their jobs have been contracted out) in exchange for a slight wage increase.
“(The deal) shares fundamentals of the deal that was ratified by Local 416 employees, and also contains proposed terms that marks significant progress on key issues to Local 79,” he said.
“Jobs with the City of Toronto are good jobs and they would continue to be good jobs if the offer was accepted and implemented with the overall terms of employment, including job security.”
Job security is a major sticking point for the union and it denounced what it called the city’s proposal for a two-tiered system that would threaten jobs and make it easier to contract out bargaining unit work.
President of CUPE 79 Tim Maguire said the union has also worked on ways to cut costs. That includes pooling benefits packages between all CUPE city workers, which the union proposed during the last round of bargaining, saying it would save anywhere from $3 million to $7 million.
“We want to maintain stable full-time jobs with the city and provide more predictability when it comes to scheduling part-time workers,” Maguire said. “We are trying to protect good jobs and benefits that come with good jobs.”
CUPE 79 also said the city’s offer would jeopardize job security for younger workers and new-hires, and discriminates against women who work in municipal pools because of a lack of a female swimsuits (instead of shorts).
Finally, the union said the city’s redeployment rubric would move workers out the door faster.
“This complicated and unclear process severely limits a worker’s ability to avoid layoff by moving into another position based on seniority,” the union said.
“In simple terms, those facing layoff(s) can only bump the most junior person in each of the four wage grades, and only if they can gain the training and expertise in one month.”
In spite of some contentious points, both sides have expressed a willingness to return to the bargaining table. A good deal, added Tory, would have to be both fair and realistic.
“First it must respect the good work of our city employees; second, it must reflect our financial realities as a city and; third, it must be fair to the taxpayers of the city,” he said.
Court of public opinion
A work-to-rule campaign, like the one launched by CUPE 79, can fail or succeed based on public perception. The tactic is a double-edged one, according to Howard Levitt, a partner at Levitt Grosman in Toronto.
“When have they ever done more than the bare minimum?” he said. “City workers have been notorious for doing the bare minimum, as is the case for most of the public sector.”
With the exception of teachers, who are required to run after-school sports and clubs not explicitly mentioned in the collective agreement, performing the minimum requirements of the job can backfire during job action, Levitt said.
“The only substantive change appears to be that the city workers are saying, ‘We’re not going to go beyond the rigid, narrow job descriptions in the collective agreement,’” he said. “So, for example, ‘If there’s a photocopier stuck and our collective agreement doesn’t require us to fix a photocopier, were not going to.’”
The problem is arbitrators these days are expanding management rights to the point they will have to do matters that are reasonably ancillary to their job duties, Levitt said.
“There’s no longer a rigid category of job functions as there might have been, say, in craft unions decades ago,” he said.
The city could also be within its management rights to discipline employees for disobedience and misconduct, which would reflect badly on the union in the court of public opinion.
“And if that exacerbates things then so be it. Putting pressure on the other side should not be a one-way street. This is ultimately a game of who has public support,” Levitt said.
The last major strike in the City of Toronto happened in the summer of 2009, when garbage piled up in the streets and city-run camps and pools were shuttered for 36 days.