Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Monday, June 15, 2009

Post Retirement Benefits: Temps, Women And Children First

A very good piece of reporting by Dave Battagello.

Thanks to him, it appears that we know now why the entire City is being put through this CUPE Strike misery by the Mayor and Council. Every single one of us is being impacted every single day.

The object is to take away benefits from City employees, not just CUPE members either, as quickly as possible over time. Investors have to be encouraged and our position on the world's stage protected. The heck with our people:

  • "The [CAW/Casino] strike continuing will have an impact on the families involved, but also on long-term investment here. I can't be any more direct than that. There is a lot at stake here.

    "A continuation of the strike makes the decision easy (for investors to look elsewhere).

  • "I know our employees recognize the importance of (the Red Bull Air Race) and the fact that Windsor will be on the world stage,"

I do not care what your position is, if you are for this or against it. It does not matter to me. What matters is that we have NOT been told about the purpose by our elected officals with full details until now.

  • A line in the sand

    The city has striking CUPE workers in its sights over retirement benefits, but police and firefighters are also feeling the heat

I wonder how long Dave has known about all of this. It is a shame that the Star did not run this story about nine or 10 weeks ago so that we would know exactly what the strike was all about. But if it did that, then the City's plans would have been thwarted early on.

I wonder if this decision was discussed in the Publisher’s office where the big Star decisions are made. I can just picture in my mind debating this monumental matter:

  • “[in a] group setting by a group usually composed of Publisher Jim Venney, Editor-in-Chief Marty Beneteau, Editorial Page Editor John Coleman and Karen Hall.”

We now know that the Star believes

  • “that even if one member of our group has a bias or conflict, the remainder of the group is in a position to offset that bias.”

Could it be that the story was published now because the Star knows that City’s plans are a failure now? They do not matter any more. Could it be that they just did not work out because CUPE members were too stupid to know that they should have settled weeks ago and given up PRBs for new hires. If I am right, someone in Administration should be fired because he/she forgot to give CUPE members the script!

If the CUPE leaders knew about the plans as well, then frankly, they have failed their members miserably by not letting the Public know what was really going on. Don’t they talk to the Firefighter and Police Unions? The strike could have been shortened by weeks. AND there would have been proper negotiating, not the kind disclosed by Councillor Mom.

It really had nothing to do just with post-retirement benefits for CUPE new hires after all. That was exactly what the Mayor and Council wanted us to believe. Yes, all of them, every single one of them on Council. Not one single of them broke ranks until now.

They knew what the game was all about right from the beginning and they were all active participants in it. Even the ones with the big crocodile tears who are now crying out for Arbitration. It is easy to ask for Arbitration when you know, counting the number of votes, that you will be on the losing side. In this way, a Councillor can seem to be on the Union side knowing full well that his or her vote won’t make a bit of difference whatsoever. It's an old tactic of politicians.

It was a pretty good scheme. Keep diverting attention from the real issue. Demonize Sid Ryan….that was an easy one. Blame it on a possible Toronto strike. Talk about garbage and grass cutting. Pretend to negotiate but don’t do so. Rats make a good story and health hazards. Condemn strikers, encourage confrontation and keep building up an anti-CUPE reaction in the city. Throw in a warning from the Chief of Police as well to really get people upset at strikers.

Thank goodness that the Star is so anti-Union. They have done a terrific job of not reporting what is going on. The coverage of the CUPE rally was underwhelming. The fellow with the lawn-mower the other day got better space! No wonder I canceled my subscription and I gather a number of people did as well.

Editorials and Henderson columns are hardly the issue. Not even the Page 3 columnists are all that important either if people can even find their columns to read them. No, do it with headlines and photographs. A picture is worth more than a thousand words when they are designed to inflame.

Oh our brilliant Mayor. As usual, a great plan but a failure to execute properly. His scheme almost worked but, as usual, circumstances that he never considered or thought possible got in the way.

The story starts back to 2005 when the last CUPE strike ended. As you will recall, the Mayor made it very clear that in the next bargaining session post retirement benefits were going to be a key factor that would have to be considered.

  • “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."

After all, Standard & Poor’s has to be kept happy to ensure investors about the City’s finances. They need to be convinced that the City could control the high amounts that the Mayor talked to us about. Back in those days the amounts being quoted were in the $170 million range. Today, they have escalated to $290 million.

Can the Mayor be congratulated for fiscal responsibility if the amount escalated so much in so few years? $120 million in less than 4 years is hardly a prize-winner! Or were different numbers used at different times to accomplish different results ie using or not using “unamortized net actuarial losses as part of the figures?"

I assumed that the $290M was the CUPE cost alone. Actually, their share is less than 50%!

  • “..the largest sum belongs to the Windsor police department at $86.6 million, or 30 per cent…CUPE Local 543 is next at $62.2 million or 21.3 per cent, followed by the fire department at $46.3 million or 16 per cent. CUPE Local 82, which represents striking outside workers, accounts for $34.5 million or 11.8 per cent of the cost and Transit Windsor employees account for $21.9 million or 7.5 per cent.”

CUPE is only about 1/3 of that amount yet they are taking all of the hits! Why were they picked on first and not others?

I wondered why the Firefighters were negotiating for so long with the City with no resolution.

  • “Windsor Firefighters Association who have been without a contract for more than three years.”

Finally both sides went to arbitration recently. Was that part of the plan as well with pre-determined timing on the City’s part?

I also wondered why the City generously gave the firefighters some extra money while the contract fighting was still going on. It seemed unusual to me.

  • “Because of the length of time since their last contract expired, Windsor firefighters were given a lump sum wage top-up last year of just over two per cent.”

I could only conclude that the City wanted to ensure that the Firefighters did not get too aggressive so pay them some money to keep them quasi-satisfied while the negotiations leading to Arbitration dragged on.

And what was one of the Firefighter issues:

  • “City administrators are going after retiree benefits of Windsor's firefighters.

    But they will follow the lead from any resolution of the strike by municipal employees on what final demands will be, a Toronto lawyer hired by the city told the panel.

    "I will be guided by the outcome," said John Saunders.

    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."

The expectation I am certain is that CUPE would have settled by and would have given up post retirement benefits for new hires. Accordingly, the City could use that as a precedent with the Firefighters and hope to achieve the same results.

Pick on the weakest people so that lines in the sand can be drawn, precedents can be set. Terrific respect for employees and a wonderful morale builder in an Administration that is not viewed well already by its employees as surveys have indicated.

  • “City negotiators have already taken a run at removing retiree benefits from Huron Lodge nurses, the police and fire departments.

    But each of those groups do not have the right to strike and their contract disputes go to arbitration. Councillors say that fight is nearly impossible to win -- unless a new deal with CUPE workers provides a precedent.

    "The idea is if (retiree benefits for) new hires are removed from CUPE, there is a better opportunity to do the same with police and fire down the road." Halberstadt said.”

It looks like Ryan was correct on costs when he appeared in front of Council and had his debate with the mayor a few weeks ago. As the City lawyer confirmed:

  • “it will be decades before the city sees any financial benefits from eliminating or limiting firefighter retiree benefits”

Here is where Sid Ryan was also correct, on whom the main burden is being placed:

  • “the lowest paid and largely female contingent of municipal employees are being used as "scapegoats" by the mayor.

    "He thinks CUPE is the weakest link," Ryan said. "He went after the lowest paid workers and portrayed them as fat cats.

    "These are in many cases part-time workers and nearly all women…They won't be used as scapegoats in his grand scheme to also get this from police and fire."

Here is something interesting about the Police, especially since Eddie is also the head of the Police Services Board. Eddie did not have the guts to take them on and backed off:

  • “The issue of removing retiree benefits from the police contract was raised during the last round of negotiations in 2007, but eventually dropped by the police services board.”

If the City was able to eliminate post retirement benefits for new hires for the CUPE members, both inside and outside, and for the Firefighters then obviously the Police Department would be next. Eddie would have his precedents to use like a good lawyer.

Battagello printed some wonderful quotes from Councillors that I so liked:

  • “Times have changed and retiree benefits are an expense the city can't afford, Valentinis said. Windsor and Vaughn are the only Ontario municipalities that provide full coverage of retiree benefits, he said.

    "We are the only two in the province. You can't ignore London, Kitchener, Niagara Falls, Kingston or Thunder Bay and what's going on there," Valentinis said.

    "It's an expense we can no longer afford to pay."

But with Firefighters and Transit we are different and we want to maintain that difference from other Communities in Ontario. Council talking out of both sides of its mouth!

  • “Coun. Alan Halberstadt said council's push to get rid of retiree benefits for every group is not going to subside.

    "The ultimate goal is to remove it from new hires from every group. It's the way it has to be," he said. "It's not going to go away. It has to be dealt with. it's not sustainable.

    "We've got a big enough problem taking care of existing employees."

Good old Alan, spilling the beans finally.

Once the PRB piece for new hires is eliminated, then in the next round of negotiations, you know that the City would try to renegotiate post retirement benefits for existing employees. They probably would not be eliminated completely but in the first go around at least the employees would be required to contribute significantly to the cost of those benefits.

In this way the Mayor would be able to point out the huge reduction to Standard & Poor’s to maintain the City's bond rating and to investors as well.

This BLOG Subject title was meant to invoke the memory of the expression:

  • "Women and children first is a saying, that implies that the lives of women (all ages) and children are to be saved first if the lives of a certain collection of people are at stake."

Not in Windsor. In municipal labour negotiations, it seems that they, as the most vulnerable, are the easiest target! And therefore, the first target!


PS I hear the Mediator will be here next week too. Perhaps this time we see a deal being done. I wonder if it can all be finalized before June 22.