Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Did The Mayors Join Together Against CUPE

Wow, what a shocking revelation by Junior!

Does this change everything now? Were citizens deliberately misled? Were all of the media, or perhaps just some, in on it and participated? Was CUPE vilified for reasons that had an ulterior motive that was not just Windsor-based:
  • "Ken Lewenza Jr. is accusing some of his city council colleagues of dragging out the recent municipal strike for political gain and says the release of in-camera council records will prove it.

    “I will demonstrate that council wanted a strike regardless of the issues,” said Lewenza...

    Lewenza said Mayor Eddie Francis had the leadership skills and knowledge to end the strike, but a work stoppage became politically advantageous for the mayor."

I must admit I would like to know the truth but Councillor Valentinis has an alternative view:

  • "But after a long and bitter strike, Valentinis said it might be best for council to move forward rather than second guess its actions.

    “Decisions were made and the question is what are we looking to achieve with this."

Just like with the 400 audit. Why bother finishing that and let's move on I suppose.

I am sure that you remember all of the stories about how Sid Ryan and CUPE were using Windsor workers as pawns in their game against the City of Toronto:

  • The city has offered about 1,800 striking inside and outside city workers a one-time cash payment in exchange for a two-year wage freeze. Halberstadt said Ryan is meddling in the strike because he fears such a deal would set a precedent in negotiations in other municipalities.

    "The taxpayers of this financially disabled city, and indeed the rank-and-file city workers, are being used as pawns in this grander game," wrote Halberstadt.

  • "And yet CUPE leadership has chosen this time to demand large wage increases and insist on future benefits for future employees that can only come at the expense of current taxpayers and future taxpayers -- many of whom are unemployed, or earn less than the striking workers, have fewer benefits, far less job security or are otherwise suffering financial difficulty of various types and degrees.

    And we are expected to accept this as a noble cause?

    At best, this is a misguided cause and, at worst, it is disingenuous and rooted in ulterior motives that have nothing to do with Windsor or Windsor workers."

  • "Sid Ryan and his CUPE brain trust might know a lot of things.

    They might know the plight of Oshawa and the bright lights of Toronto.

    They might, among other things, know how to run a national union that has dues-collecting tentacles in every corner of this great land.

    But they don't know Windsor. And what else but failure to understand what makes our border city tick could lead them into a showdown they were doomed to lose from day one?

    Perhaps they were counting on Windsor's track record as a labour stronghold to crank up the heat."

I have always had this gut-feeling that there was another side to this story: Cities and the Province deciding to crush the public service unions, municipally first and then provincially. To be honest, if I was conducting the OLRB hearing on behalf of CUPE respecting the unfair labour practices, this is an area that I would be investigating.

The similarities in the strikes in Windsor and Toronto are interesting. Of course, the expectation was that CUPE Windsor would collapse within weeks and that would make it easier for a strike to be minimized in Toronto and more concessions being forced on the Union there. The fact that this did not happen may well have messed up the game plan. I am sure the lowest point in Windsor's CAO's career was never contemplated and was so catastrophic that it may well have signalled the premature ending of the strikes if I am right.

Consider this:

  • Each City had a big PR issue that was publicized to the hilt involving big dollar numbers but with little immediate impact

  • less-publicized other concessions were demanded of the unions

  • a much longer than expected strike

  • lack of action by the Province on back-to-work legislation

  • Provincial Ministers biased in the Cities' favour

  • Francis Protocol fiasco resulting in an almost immediate strike settlement in both Cities with the Unions winning significant benefits.

The big difference between the two cities is the media. Toronto's looked at the strike after-math and attacked how their Mayor failed. Our media looked at the strike after-math and told us that the citizens were responsible for our big success without panning what our Mayor failed to achieve.

It is hardly a big surprise from a Windsor newspaper that views itself as a Messenger.

Here though are some fascinating insights from a recent Toronto Star story

  • "Why that 39-day strike happened to us

    The city admits it was ready to make concessions on pay and sick bank months ago. So why didn't it?"
It's so close to what Junior is now alleging:
  • "At the end of the day, what (taxpayers) paid for was more expensive than what was possible.

    Council had chances to cap or negotiate cost sharing with CUPE for post-retirements benefits — the flashpoint of the strike — or strike other deals which were more financially advantageous than the final agreement, Lewenza said."

It is becoming more and more evident that an investigation needs to be undertaken about what co-ordination if any there was amongst the employer-side in these strikes. I think there may well be a big story that needs uncovering. Take a look at this

  • "DAVID MILLER Toronto Mayor

    "In hindsight, Miller says the city could have been more flexible on both wages and the sick bank.

    Could we have given our bargainers flexibility beforehand? Maybe. Those are things we could have done differently. If I had to do it over, would I try to do that? Well, given what I know now, yes, possibly." [Councillor Postma--"Last week we made the decision to allow our team more freedom to negotiate a contract that is fair to both parties and we also agreed that binding arbitration is not the right path for us. I strongly believe that for the past 7 weeks council has not given our negotiating team the tools to truly negotiate. We have set parameters for them but have not given them the autonomy required to get a contract. In essence they have been negotiating with themselves."]

  • "They reveal a deal blocked for months by venomous labour relations, entrenched positions and miscalculations. The outcome suggests there will not be labour peace any time soon.

    "They've sent labour relations back decades," says Dembinski, president of the city's inside workers in CUPE local 79. "It was the nastiest round of bargaining I've ever been in – by far." [I still do not understand why Windsor did not follow the Public Library approach to negotiations over PRBs as a precedent since it worked so well without a strike. There is no doubt that CUPE/City relations are a mess. Moreover, Councillor Halberstadt gave us a history lesson of successful negotiations with CUPE over garbage matters in his BLOG]
    "Miller, as pro-union a mayor city hall has ever had, insists he achieved his bottom line – limited wage increases and an eventual end to a bank of unused sick days that is a $140 million liability for the city. He maintains he did it despite conservative councillors bent on sabotaging his every move.

    But he failed at his preferred objective, the one his negotiators clung to during seven months of bargaining: an immediate end to the sick bank. Instead, it will be phased out." [PRBs are NOT phased out completely for new hires but more importantly, the City seemingly is stuck at ever being able to change them for existing employees. In addition, union members won significant improvements in their pay and benefits and job guarantees. As mini-Gord said "Windsor's property tax hawks will be complaining bitterly today that city council flubbed the best chance in a generation to get labour costs under control.

    We had CUPE on the ropes, they'll howl, and they still get a 6.3 per cent wage increase? And they get all their vacation plus a signing bonus of two grand for nothing? Outrageous!]

  • "Why was Toronto different? Why did daycares have to close and mounds of garbage rot in city parks for the city to reach a deal other municipalities obtained without a walkout?

    It is all the more baffling because a phase-out plan, according to Miller, was part of the mandate council's employee labour relations committee gave negotiators as far back as last September. Yet he says they never proposed it in bargaining, waiting instead until sometime after July 15 – at least 24 days into the strike – for mediators to raise the option. [Isn't this the same question to ask here?]

  • "Outside workers in local 416 had plenty to discuss. President Mark Ferguson says the city wanted changes to contract language on working conditions, grievance procedures, seniority and the process for layoffs.

    "I had never come across such a draconian set of proposals during my 10 years as a trade unionist," says Ferguson, 40, relaxing in the backyard of his modest Aurora bungalow." [The City wanted a "net zero" approach, concessions in 8 different areas according to the Union ie if CUPE wanted an improvement in one area, it would have to be taken from another. See my BLOG July 27, 2009 "CUPE Strike: Little To Do With PRBs"]

  • "Miller says most of the non-monetary issues were resolved by early July. On the 8th, council's labour relations committee agreed to sweeten the wage offer and give city negotiators more flexibility to strike a deal – something Miller now says he might have done sooner." [Eddie's near-riot protocol fiasco took place on July 16 and the parties negotiating teams worked without outside involvement subsequently to reach a deal.]

  • "In an unusual move that incensed the unions, Miller made the offer public a day after presenting it to them. He telephoned to warn union leaders minutes before doing so." [Remember the City strike website story: May 04, 2009 "Is The CUPE Strike Solution Hiding Under Our Noses"]

  • "Miller says city negotiators knew they could eventually settle for 6 per cent over three years, which in the end they did." [Very similar numbers to Windsor's]

  • "But union leaders insist the public offer shored up the strikers' resolve. Says Dembinski: "It showed they were taking money that should have been for our wages and using it to buy out our sick time." [See "net zero" approach above]

  • "A breakthrough came July 14, when local 416 made clear it was prepared to negotiate the sick bank.

    What changed?

    Ferguson says the union realized that a short-term disability plan, which pays workers only when injured or ill, would be better for junior members. Last year, the city says about 300 members of the striking union locals lost pay while ill or injured because they didn't have enough banked sick days to cover time off.

    Clinching the issue was a mediator's proposal of a "grandfathering" option, Ferguson says. [At some point, CUPE took PRBs for new hires off the bargaining table partially. When and why have not been explained]

Not completely conclusive I will admit but with Junior's outburst and the former CAO's comment--his growing disagreements with council, weariness from the heavy-handed control of Mayor Eddie Francis--expect more dynamite before this is all over.