Mayor Francis Must Go (Part II)
You see, dear reader, the Star is afraid of what happened not just because their reputation as a credible news source was destroyed. No, it is because they would have to report about Edgar's warts publicly. The myth would be shattered out of the Star's own mouth.
Let's get down to the nitty gritty now about Edgar's failures in the CUPE strike. And that of the Star. The details. The major items at issue. It is only then that Windsorites will understand how the Mayor failed us.
We learn this not only from the Minutes of in camera meetings that Junior caused to be disclosed but also from the background information that Junior primarily but also Councillor Marra provided us at the Ward 4 meeting, information we otherwise would never have known! And if Junior's allegations are correct, information that the hardliners would never want disclosed because of the consequences to their polticial careers.
Sic transit gloria mundi
THE WINDSOR STAR
It can now be dismissed as a credible news gathering force in this City. Heck, even they admitted that they are a Messenger. The non-coverage of the Lewenza meeting confirms it. The biggest applause of the evening was directed to slams against the Star by audience members.
But it got much worse than this as Junior's Report pointed out when outlining a remark by one of the Star's Senior Columnists, mini-Gord, in his June 11 BLOG:
- "Kevin and Nicole Cabana
Dear Kevin, or Nicole: Quit being a crybaby, If you want to go back to work, go back already. I'm not stopping anyone from working.
As for prolonging the strike, I think that might be true, and it's a compliment to the Windsor Star for representing the interests of its readers. If the Mayor and council didn't know public opinion was so strongly behind them they'd throw in the towel and cave in like previous councils did. We are doing our job well, I'd say."
It is not a figment of Junior's imagination. As a Star reporter wrote of his own newspaper in a moment of weakness or dumbness:
- "Jason had to take a lot of crap to get that footage. CUPE members were shouting at him, swearing at him, blocking him.
I hate the unreasonable mentality that holds all Windsor Star staff responsible for the newspaper's editorials and columnists."
It reminded me of what Marty Beneteau said about the Star:
- "We did things that newspapers can do to bring about change, positive change."
In other words, they will do whatever they think it takes to accomplish whatever they believe is "positive change" even if it means dividing the Community. Report the news objectively as newspapers pretend they do...no wonder the border file is the mess it is in.
Pathetic. It is a disservice to our City since the Star is the major news source in town!
ARBITRATION---BETTING THE FARM AND LOSING
What a crock we were fed by the Mayor. Was it deliberate or did he not know? After all, he should; he is a lawyer as he likes to remind us!
- "Francis said he's aware of the growing irritation among Windsor taxpayers about the lack of service.
"But at the same time, I don't want a group of irate taxpayers knocking on our door saying, 'Why'd you give away the farm?'
We have a financial responsibility to the corporation..."
"It is my opinion not to leave this in the hands of a third party that's 400 or 500 kilometres away… "It is the responsibility of the parties to reach an agreement. The city of Windsor is prepared to sit down and reach an agreement."
"The history of arbitrators is one of giving away the farm -- they're known to give away the farm."
Thanks to the CFIB, hardly a friend of CUPE, we learned some things that Edgar did not tell us. Thanks to Junior we learned a lot more:
- There are at least four active arbitrators from this area whose names appear on the Ministry of Labour’s approved list of Arbitrators. To be on that list these people have had to demonstrate expertise in the area of Labour Arbitration
- While a settlement between the parties is preferred, where the parties are unable to find a settlement, arbitration is a responsible way to end a particular dispute
- The parties determine the terms of reference for the arbitrator and within that process the parties can still negotiate a settlement before a decision is reached. eg the City of Toronto Labour Disputes Resolution Act 2002
- Here is a local arbitrated ruling that was delivered recently between Windsor Regional Hospital and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, local 636. The Arbitrator said
- "Additionally, the board has considered the general economic conditions in Canada and Ontario, and the specific economic situation of Windsor. With respect to the latter point in particular we are of the view that the local economic difficulties, and the influence they will have on the funds available to the employer, aside from Provincial funding, must seriously be considered
Let's be honest. Windsorites were fooled. There was no real reason NOT to arbitrate! It was all scare tactics for public consumption in order to justify the stall and delay in not getting a speedy resolution.
Arbitration could have worked much earlier on and ended the strike. However, some clearly did not want it ended and we were shovelled this BS.
Take a look at what Councillor Halberstadt said the other day as his colleague mentioned at the meeting. He would like garbage made an essential service. The anti-arbitration Councillor must have changed his mind about arbitration. In most cases, when there is no agreement with an essential service union like fire or police, how are disputes resolved: ARBITRATION!
POST RETIREMENT BENEFITS
More scare tactics. Mass confusion for everyone about hundreds of millions of dollars of unfunded liabilities being thrown around. Do you recall when we were finally told that the CUPE amount was only a small percentage of the almost $300M total? Are you surprised now about the late sharing of relevant information!
Let's talk about PRBs. It turns out to have been a completely bogus issue but a very good one to scare taxpayers and demonize CUPE workers for having something that "we do not have." Yes, let us offer benefits to the lowest common denominator for everyone
- Did PRBs for new hires end? Nope....they have them until age 65
- PRBs are now part of the collective bargaining process where they were not before so we know what is going to happen during the next round of negotiations.. Oh well, that is for a different Council to deal with. IBG, YBG
- "The city has agreed to help form a joint committee with new hires at some point to select a provider so they can pay toward a benefit plan for retirement years, she said." See what I mean
- Not a penny has been set aside to reduce or has been saved for our outstanding, unfunded hundreds of millions of dollars of PRB liabilities for existing employees. S&P will still see them
- New Councils in the future have been handcuffed since the City has agreed never to take away this benefit from employees. IBG,YBG
This last point is a real sleeper. As a CUPE member had said to me before:
- "But the really significant gain that the union made in this last round of negotiations was in language that enshrines the PRBs in the contract and allows the union to come back to this issue each time a new contract is negotiated. As Ken Lewenza Jr. pointed out weeks ago, over time the union may be able to gradually negotiate employer contributions to the new hires benefits fund over the years. By the time 30 years is up, who knows how much we may have negotiated back in the form of employer contributions to that fund?
Furthermore, contract language guarantees that no future negotiations can take away the PRBs for current employees. In addition to the contract language, a separate contract with each employee will also legally guarantee those PRBs for lifetime for employees and spouses and qualified dependants."
Did you forget this:
- "It's been said there is no benefit to this for 30 years," said treasurer Onorio Colucci. "That's true."
- "City leaders anticipate it will take between 40 and 50 years before current employees are completely grandfathered out and the $291-million price tag is eliminated"
From mini-Gord, and this is important re how many new hires there will be since we spent 101 days to take away their benefit to save so much money 35 years from now:
- "But if the rest of the reorg goes the way this phase did, city staffers should take a deep breath and relax just a bit. The vast majority of them will keep their jobs. The latest move permanently erased $1.7 million in annual costs from city books without a layoff. They can do a lot more of that.
Helga Reidel, the newly appointed chief administrative officer who has been handed this huge task, said attrition is the main tool she intends to use to cut costs. She used the "A" word a dozen times Wednesday. It means letting normal retirements reduce staffing gradually, painlessly.
"We also have a significant number of vacancies" throughout the organization, "and right now that's a good thing." Empty jobs are being eliminated, permanently."
In other words, the number of new hires will be miniscule for years to come!
It is like a Seinfeld sitcom. We fought a strike over NOTHING!
What liability therefore to scare everyone about for new hires short-term when there are few new hires?
What need to have a 101-day strike over something that is not an issue for years?
Why wasn't a committee set up as was suggested early on to negotiate this issue. Then there would have been no long strike? In the end there is a committee now.
Again, we were fooled over an issue that was not one. Why couldn't the City have used the precedent I outlined the way the Windsor Public Library and CUPE handled this issue? There was no strike there.
The obvious answer: someone wanted a strike! That someone wanted a strike is clear now since we learned from Junior that City managers are forming a union precisely because the elimination of PRBs for them was one of a number of issues that antagonized them. That someone knew that CUPE would strike over the issue too.
In Toronto, they had sick plan benefits and we had PRBs as the main issue. Both "airy-fairy," hard and complex to understand and supposedly multi-million dollar burdens on taxpayers. Co-incidental? And the municipal governments folded in both cities right after our near riot.
The sick plan benefits loss cost Mayor Miller. Shall we say the same now for Mayor Francis over PRBs?
THE HARDLINER DEAL THAT WILL KEEP ON GIVING---FOREVER
Sure I criticize mini-Gord. He makes it so easy. But he gives me so much information to demonstrate how absurd this Mayor and the hardliners on Council are.
Edgar does need to learn to keep his mouth shut or at least to ensure he is not quoted by mini-Gord. But he is incapable of doing so when he thinks there is glory for which he can take credit:
- "The mayor says paying only three top senior execs to run the city instead of five will save Windsor $400,000 per year, forever. The buyouts pale compared with the long-term savings to taxpayers."
In a variation of that, Edgar spun his magic again:
- "Getting rid of the general managers level at city hall, as well as eliminating a currently vacant executive director position in environmental services, will result in annual salary and benefits costs of over $750,000 per year, said Francis. Getting rid of an aerial truck and 12 positions, including four captains and five firefighters, at the fire department adds another more than $920,000 in savings, the mayor added."
FOREVER, a word to haunt the Mayor and the hardliners when the math is calculated about how much they cost us.
Now consider the City settlement. Remember Junior told us that there was a CUPE proposal for a status quo settlement that the City did not even consider! It did not fit in with the hardliners' NetZero approach.
- "CUPE workers have agreed to a 6.3 per cent wage increase over the life of the agreement -- annual hikes of one, 1.5, 1.8 and two per cent."
- "Actually, the total increase over the four years, including the one-time $2,000 lump sum payment and compounding, is seven per cent, according to city treasurer Onorio Colucci."
I recall that the total cost was around $12M over 4 years. For the sake of simplicity, let us say that the amount is $3M per year. Accordingly, since the increases are built into whatever wage increase the workers will get into the future, forever, is it not legitimate to say as Edgar did:
- "The mayor says paying CUPE workers to run the city will cost Windsor $3,000,000 per year, forever. The payouts pale compared with the long-term savings to taxpayers that could have been achieved but for the hardliners!"
If you want to do a compound interest calculation of adding in an extra $3M in wages over 35 years at an interest rate of 5%, the total cost of this settlement (and to fight the phony PRB issue) is over $300M! Even Junior's $160M was too low! With no interest, the amount is still almost $110M.
Thanks to the hardliners, we keep on losing huge amounts of money---forever!
By following Edgar the Pied Piper about NetZero for so long, the hardliners stopped thinking.
No, No, No to CUPE may be good politics, for the short-term, but it meant that less expensive alternatives and those that could have ended the strike quickly were never considered. In the end it cost us as taxpayers much more
What if Council called CUPE's bluff about a status quo contract early on. No strike and no expenditures. Lewenza talks about:
- "Council's failure in recognizing lost opportunities going back to 2006 or the failure to pursue motions that were lost on April 15, April 24, and Councillor Hatfields motion on May 11. Which in hindsight all represent a better deal for taxpayers and our employees."
If the issue is unfunded liabilities, imagine the opportunites for creativity lost when turning down in mid-April ways to fund PRBs as if they were a pension plan funding scheme.
- "THAT the City negotiating team RETURN to the bargaining table and make an offer to CUPE Local 82 with respect to post retirement benefits which would include the provision of a modified post retirement benefit plan to new hires past the age of 65 which would include a reduction in benefits from those presently enjoyed by employees hired before January 1, 2009."
We did not reduce the existing unfunded PRB liability by one penny in the settlement. We achieved little other than putting off the issue to another Council in the future to let them grapple with it and fight that strike.
Short-term pain but no long-term gain was the motto for the hardliners. Oh I can hear their re-election pitches now.
Here was the big Lewenza challenge:
- "Why did the so called "hardliners" on Council fold in a one hour span on June 17, 2009 that caused such an enormous shift in the City's position?"
CUPE was being hammered in the media, there was no pressure on Councillors to do anything and yet, for the first time Council offered a wage increase.
That might have caused a breakthrough but there was the leak, the source of which has not yet been found and then Edgar went overseas for 2 weeks! Were there negotaitons during those 2 weeks or was everyone sitting around waiting for his return?
We learned that the answer was Helga, who finally spoke out on the part of a frustrated negotiating committee. She at least got the process off the rails but only after weeks of non-action. Councillors Lewenza and Marra confirmed that there was Councillor micromanaging and that the negotiators' hands were tied.
No wonder CUPE strikers were out for so long. I can guess the reason why now. It was not a labour dispute but political action using taxpayer "savings" to try and crush CUPE. $300,000 a week of it.
Oh there is so much more to talk about:
- the failure of Administration to speak out
- the loss of leverage against the other 70% of workers in other City unions
- the effect on businesses by having so many workers off work and spin-off jobs lost and people still not spending money since they are playing catch-up
- the effect on people and families
- the negative image of the City.
The list of Edgar/hardliner failures in the strike is long enough already to prove my point about Edgar going.
We are seeing a City destroyed in so few years under one Mayor. How much more of him can we take?
We are a City with so much potential but where inaction and spending money on consultants is what is spun. A City where mind's eye visions about greatness are the norm and realistic projects are fought even when people need jobs. A City where the major news outlet is more concerned in spreading their philosophy than allowing us to form our own opinion by providing the objective facts.
Am I being fair to pin this all on Edgar? Of course not. The hardliners have to share part of it. They cost us dearly too. Edgar is just one of eleven as he tells us especially when things fall apart and the finger is pointed at him. He is right except he is first amongst the Council, the only full-timer, and he must take full responsibility as CEO.
I will give Junior guts for taking him on. Few on Council would dare do so and face his wrath and that of the Windsor Star. In fact, I heard that Junior was under pressure to forget about the whole thing because he was risking his political future. In my opinion, he helped himself immensely. Frankly, going after Edgar and the Star is a winner in this City now!
Is he right in what he said? You be the judge. What I do know is that Edgar had to be so terrified of him. And the Messenger did not dare to show up to cover the story. Their approach was to ignore it and thereby bury it.
Perhaps I will leave it this way about Edgar and my feelings towards him and why he should announce he is not running again. It's from the Wizard of Oz:
- It’s not that he is such a bad man, it’s just that he is not a very good wizard.