Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Asleep At The Switch

It should be very interesting if the City/CUPE strike ever ends what the reaction of CUPE members will be to their own Union.

If one takes a look at the history set out in Chris Schnurr's BLOG today, it seems that the Mayor was setting up this confrontation with the Union back in 2005 when the last contract was finalized.

Given the legal technocrat that he is, it should also have been clear that the big issue would be the post retirement benefits since that was of concern to Standard and Poor's and therefore Eddie's very important constituency, out-of-town investors:
  • "But the bond raters warned the city will have to deal with a growing burden posed by rising post-retirement benefits that have left it with a future liability of $170 million.

    “Windsor’s large post-retirement liabilities … are among the highest compared with its peers,” the report said.

    Mayor Eddie Francis said the city will have to find a way to deal with the burden. One way is to stop providing those retirement benefits for new employees, while grandfathering them for current employees."

In passing, it is interesting that the costs for PRBs went from $160.9M in 2004 to $170M in 2005 to $290M as posted by Councillor Halberstadt recently. It is not as bad as that actually but almost $300M is a good number to use to slam a Union. The comparable amounts should include "unamortized net accuarial losses." That amount in 2007 was about $80M.

Whichever figure one wants to look at, why was the contract in 2005 "good for the city" according to the Mayor but today something similar is not. As Schnurr states, was it "politics" as with WUC to create a crisis?

The question that needs to be asked is whether the CUPE Union Executives were asleep! They certainly have been outsmarted from everything from the grass being cut for Art in The Park to failing to require the City to negotiate in good faith to losing public support in a Union town. I can hardly wait for the injunction to be issued to save Red Bull after the busloads of people are brought in from out-of-town the day before the race and there is mass picketing at the site.

Why not make it a snap for the City's lawyers since it is all so predictable what CUPE will do. I would be surprised if the papers have not been drafted already for the Court Order!

Take a look at this from the City's website. It is enough to make a local CUPE member cry as mortgage payments become due:

What are the CUPE Executives doing this week to get negotiations started...working out the bus trip logistics? I doubt that the Moist/Ryan speeches did much to advance things.

I am taking a shot at the CUPE leaders because of the Star story about the Firefighters arbitration. It should be a real eye-opener for CUPE members. Didn't the CUPE executives follow what was going on? Take a look at how it plays out with the CUPE situation:

  • The city is pursuing lavish projects while crying poverty during firefighter negotiations. Compare with [Re the new infrastructure programs]"We can do it all," Francis said after the work was announced last Friday. "We planned for this over the past four or five years."

  • Years of failed negotiations put them in front of an arbitrator. Compare with Councillor Postma's comments about how the City negotiated

  • City administrators are going after retiree benefits of Windsor’s firefighters. Compare with only CUPE new hires today

  • Even though it will be decades before the city sees any financial benefits from eliminating or limiting firefighter retiree benefits, “at some point there has to be a line in the sand” according to the City's lawyer. Compare with today then with only 4 new hires at a time of ecnomic difficulties for Windsor. Is this the time to crush a workforce? It looks like CUPE was right and the $100,000 PRB figure thrown out was a scare tactic by the City!

  • Toronto lawyer hired by the city told the panel---Compare with we do not want people 4-500 KMs away deciding matters for the City through arbitration.

  • Main focus of the City lawyer was the "association proposal to reduce the average firefighter work week from 48 hours to 42...Windsor is the only major Canadian city not to have 42-hour work weeks, but also the only one to retain 24-hour shifts." Clearly Windsor wants to retain its difference. Compare with the City allegation that Windsor is one of the few cities that has PRBs and wants to end the difference and be the same as others.

  • "The salary for a first-class firefighter is $69,000. The average Ontario firefighter made $78,000 in 2008."

Is it too late for the Union? Almost. With some good strategy, they could still change attitudes but not by buying useless billboards! Take a look at my CKLW arbitration BLOG to see what I mean.

Nevertheless, with all of this around, please explain to me how and why this strike has been so badly handled. Why it will be a snap for Senior to take over the Windsor CUPE locals for the CAW after he gets the credit for facilitating the settlement!