Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Why The Anonymous Source Did It

It was late at night and I was beat. Another long day of Blogging. It's hard work being, as one reader said, "the only alternative to the CBC, AM 800 and the Windsor Star." Nice compliment to make it all worthwhile.

Just as I was about to turn off my PC and head to bed I heard this banging on the door. Who could that be I wondered. It was too late for Deep Throat I chuckled to myself. He is a morning person.

"Hold your horses," I shouted. "I am coming!"

After turning on the outside light, I opened the door. I could not believe who it was.

"For heaven's sake. Turn off the light and let me in. I am taking a big enough chance by coming here in the first place."

While I would not categorize the person as an inside mole, I have received the odd bit of useful information from the person over time.

"How about a cup of coffee?" I asked, always being the gracious host. "It looks like we can both use one."

The pleasantries over, I asked the obvious question: "Why are you here so late?"

"Oh Blogmeister, you must be tired. Haven't you guessed, I am the "Anonymous Source blamed for talks' collapse" as the Star's headline so elegantly put it. I am the one that they are hunting down for their investigation." With that, my guest burst out laughing. "It is like a cheap B-grade movie."

My eyes widened in surprise and then I laughed out "I have never met a free agent before! I could not believe that term the Mayor used. I thought we were looking for a football or baseball star since the Mayor was so involved in sports events."

I have to admit that I was somewhat shocked. This person had clearly taken a big chance in talking to the press and now to me.

"Why did you do it?" I asked naively as if I should expect an answer.

"Wow, your reputation is true. You are very direct and to the point when it comes to events that can impact the City.

I've read your speculation that the City wanted to re-negotiate downward even more so released the information. I heard that it was the typical City Hall leak to the media--this time to TV to keep the Star out of it given the hits they are taking about the Publisher's office--to make the Mayor look like a genius and to capitalize on the popularity some think he is earning because of his hard-line against strikers so he might run for a third-term.

Gosh, some even thought it was the Union who wanted to work up their members so much before the 1 PM Friday meeting that they would reject the possible solution and demand that the Union tell the City where they could go!"

I was stunned. If it was not for the City or not for the Union, then for whom was it done?

"Another coffee please," my guest asked quietly. "Look, I did what I had to do. We were going to have more months of chaos. There was not going to be a deal.

The Police Chief was right except there could be escalation from citizens or strikers that could result in harm or a jail term. For what? To keep an S&P rating? To teach Toronto a lesson?

People are hurting. Ten weeks of striking is enough for heaven's sake in an economy in a City that is under the gun."

The tension was so thick now you could cut it with a knife.

"I am so sick and tired of it. One crisis after another. The simplest of matters requiring all of this drama, the theatrics, the positioning. Why can't there be honesty, laying out the facts so everyone knows the issues? Why the secrecy?

I read your BLOG the other day and decided I had enough. I read what the person from the Toronto Board of Trade said:
  • "This is the way negotiations have always gone in recent years: strike threats and last-minute, round-the-clock bargaining. But this year's negotiations can't be routine. Both labour and management in Toronto have much to learn from what their U.S. counterparts are going through...

    In U.S. cities, mayors make their case in public well in advance. They lay out the severity of their situation in the simplest terms. They explain the tough choices ahead: If the city wants to save jobs, it has to find new ways to save money. Then they invite the unions to be part of the solution.

    This approach also has the benefit of being transparent for all taxpayers, and gives public opinion a bigger say in the outcome."

"Oh stop," I blurted out. "This is Windsor. If there is a hard way to do something or an easy way, we always choose the hard way and then move it up a notch or ten!"

"My, my Blogmeister. You have become too cynical since you have been Blogging while Eddie Francis has been Mayor. It was not always like this. If you fill up my cup again, I will share something with you that few know about."

Who could resist that invitation? I was wide awake anyway so after I made a fresh pot, the Anonymous Source continued:

"Labour negotiations does not have to be war. Solutions can be reached even in the most trying cases. All one needs are reasonable people and the facts put on the table.

Let me tell you about this situation that involved the Windsor Public Library a few years ago and retirement benefits. It may not be 100% correct but what I was able to discover.

Believe it or not, the Mayor is correct in that the long term costs of retiree benefits are non-sustainable. We can see easily how quickly they have escalated since he has become Mayor! Given the reality that most people experience 95% of all their lifetime health-related costs in the last five years of their lives, the cost of these benefits will affect the City one way or the other regardless of who is actually paying the monthly premium.

In fact, it is probably the single most important priority in controllable costs-the fact that they would outpace the current employee benefit costs.

It is the approach the City has taken that is in error to my mind. Just like that Toronto article pointed out.

I did some research and asked around over the last few days about how this matter was handled at the Windsor Public Library where there the PRB for CUPE members was ended. If they did it without a fuss, why couldn’t the Mayor have done it that way? Oooops I just answered my own question. Eddie needs to be the hero.

At WPL, management recognized the long term liability of retiree benefits. They sent out an informal survey to colleagues across Ontario asking how WPL compared and what they were doing to control their growing liability. To their absolute surprise, WPL and Vaughan were the only libraries in Ontario to offer paid retirement benefits for life, including spouse. A few offered employees the opportunity to continue their own benefits to age 65 upon early retirement. Several offered a death benefit only. None offered employer paid benefits after 65. WPL was clearly following an automobile union-type model adopted by the City.

The WPL’s benefit consultant was called in to conduct an actuarial project of retiree benefit costs. It was mind blowing...because retirees are the highest users of drug and health benefits, their usage experience was causing overall group premiums to be 50% higher. In fact, based on projections, costs just for retirees were projected to exceed current employees by 2010.

Rather than ignoring a crisis for years and then demandig action be taken when it is almost too late, similar to how Eddie handled WUC and now PRBs, WPL leadership looked down the road and knew it had to deal with the looming crisis immediately.

For legal reasons, WPL gave current employees written notice that the PRB policy would expire with the current agreement in one year's time. It was NOT dropped on the table during negotiations so the Union would have a legal argument that Council could not revoke a long standing policy. In fact, Eddie might have been able to deal with the entire issue of retiree benefits, not just new hires, if he had handled it differently. It depends on the facts and the legal position clearly.

WPL also took a different approach to negotiations than the current approach. DUH, they actually talked to the Union in advance. They invited the benefit consultant into negotiations (CUPE had put retiree benefits on the table as a new item for the agreement) to explain to the committee the actual costs of benefits, and the basis for future projections. WPL provided the research to CUPE's expert for their review. Note that no feedback was provided so presumably CUPE accepted the numbers.

WPL knew standing firm against this emotional demand would be all that could be withstood in these negotiations. Accordingly, no other substantial demands were made of the Union and WPL offered the going public sector wage increase of the day. Otherwise it is tackling too many items when PRBs was the biggie! The others could be left for another day was the strategy.

WPL and the Union went back and forth cooperatively to solve the challenge- continuity of retiree benefits vs the the wage offer...the link was obvious to all. Long term projections in costs were equated to lost positions in subsequent years. I was told that WPL would have had to eliminate 8 full time employees every five years to pay for this benefit. The argument was how could the Union in good conscience argue for long-time members' largesse at the cost of slaughtering younger members who had families and mortgages and so on.

It was a tough choice for everyone.

Close to the end WPL offered to carry retirees on their group plan but at their expense.

In the end, CUPE dropped the demand without explanation in their final and successful last counter offer

The parties left the room with an acceptable solution AND a good working relationship. Unfortunately, the City today has forgotten that these are your people, the ones you have to trust, value and count on every don't win by starving them out. Bitter feelings will be inevitable; morale will drop even further.

Eddie may or may not be around after the next election, but the next Mayor and Council will have to live with the employee memory of today."

With that, the Anonymous Source stopped, drained! A few minutes passed. "I did it knowing it might hurt the negotiations. I had to have the confrontation end. It was the only way I thought it would happen.

I did expect that Council would get involved. I had no idea that Councillor Marra would file an Integrity Commissioner Complaint. Now you know why I came here so late. I could not afford to be spotted coming to visit you.

You were right in your BLOG the other day. The Three Blind Mice need to hold their noses, bring in 3 more Councillors and force an arbitration to achieve a resolution, say for the next 3 years. I would have said 2 years but there is an election next year and who needs more posturing by politicians for about a year and a half.

These three Councillors and the other 3 or more are the only possible solution right now. I heard about the bitterness listening to the news on CKLW. As far as the Mayor goes, he comes along or is pushed out of the way. Surely Councillors have had enough of being blindsided by him.

During that time, the parties need to agree to put their cards on the table, to share information freely and bring in Union members and the public into the dialogue. Then they can both agree to a workable solution just the way it was done at the WPL.

Enough of secrecy and oneupsmanship. The Mayor as a lawyer should know that the basis of the trial system is "no surprises." Look at the mess with the Police and jury investigations."

With that my guest got up to leave. I had little to say. I was shell-shocked. "You know you will be crucified if you are found out."

"Oh it's a risk I am prepared to accept," said my guest. "Don't worry about me. No one will suspect me. After all, I don't exist. I am anonymous. Heck if worse comes to worst, the City will trade me away to Tecumseh or LaSalle. I am a free agent after all"