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416 Blues

Unpacking The City Outside-Workers Deal

by Geordie Gwalgen Dent

Toronto- With indoor and library workers in the City of Toronto recently ramping up the bargaining pressure, questions are surfacing regarding the deal agreed to by CUPE local 416 representing outside workers.

Members of the union leadership felt that the deal was they best that could have been gotten at the time. Could the union have done better?

"When you contrasted what the City gave as its final offer, to what the membership got, it was good.  No one's happy about the concessions but [the bargaining committee] managed to beat back the majority of them," said a member of the union leadership speaking anonymously on background to the Toronto Media Co-op.

The contract, which included wage increases, saw a number of major concessions:

- job protection against contracting out  for employees reduced to those with 15 years of service (down from all permanent staff).  
- elimination of union approval for managers to revise shift schedules
- Elimination of process around employee 'bumping' when management reassigns workers to new jobs and new locations
 -Provisions which allow management to stop employee absenteeism

The concessions given up were large enough that labour leaders and lawyer interviews by the Toronto Star characterized them unheard of for a large jurisdiction.  Lawyers interviewed by the Toronto Media Co-op said the provisions are similar in a number of other smaller Ontario municipalities.

However, the question remains: why did the union feel it had to give up as much as it did and why did members vote in favour?

According to the leadership the anti-labour public sentiment had a lot to do with both the bargaining unit's concessions and the passing of the contract. "With the memory of what took place in 2009 fresh in peoples minds, the administration was able to exploit that.  The local understood that their options were limited around job action...if they had taken a strike it would not have been a very good outcome in the court of public opinion."

Paul LePage, the Parks Forestry and Recreation Vice-Chair for CUPE 416 says that the threat by the City to unilaterally impose a contract and start firing or laying people off also created a lot of fear in the membership.

"The thought around the membership is that we didn't get hit as bad as we would have," he said.  "We were worried about them imposing a contract and firing people or laying people off." According to LePage, getting people jobs back on the settling of a new contract could have been very time-consuming, stressful and difficult.

Other labour sources, speaking anonymously, felt that Local 416 didn't have enough of a plan for public support.  Rumors that the union was planning to avoid picketing in lieu of other tactics drew raised eye-browns from some labor activists.

"We had a very effective strategy to counter [anti-union] messaging.  I don't think it's an outcome we thought was get to the place we'd like to be through this round of negotiations.  

"We spent a lot of time doing work, repairing our relationship with the public from 2009," said union sources claiming that negotiations could have been different 6 months from now given the current public perception of Mayor Ford.

LePage says the union was ready to picket heavily: "We were ready to mobilize.  We had formations set up to do mass picketing. We had our first 9 days planned with major mobilizations.  

"We weren't going to picket te ice rinks, but definetly shut down City Hall on the first day."

Despite the benefit of not having to strike, LePage doesn't think that the terms of the contract have really 'set in' for workers.
"Reality hasn't quite kicked in with our union...when these jobs are gone [contracted out] after the summer with garbage workers, we'll see a little more of what's going to happen."

City inside workers represented by CUPE Local 79 continue to bargain, while library workers represented by CUPE Local 4948 have recently requested a no-board report from the Province to put pressure on getting a deal done.

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