Devastating cuts threaten Toronto city workers' job security, union says

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Photo: flickr/ Diego Torres Silvestre

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Thousands of City of Toronto workers are facing sweeping contract changes designed to eliminate job security, create less stability for part-time employees and significantly reduce benefits, union locals have revealed.

Locals 79 and 416 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) have been in negotiations with The City of Toronto since late October over new collective agreements for their members. Yesterday, Toronto city public library workers began negotiating with the City.

Local 79 represents approximately 20,000 frontline workers, including nurses, cleaners, child-care staff and social service employees.

Local 416 represents approximately 5,000 members who work in outdoor services for the city including garbage collectors, paramedics and parks and water service staff.

Both chapters have given a strike mandate and say the cuts proposed by the City are the most devastating ever seen.

Matt Alloway, a member of the 416 bargaining team and chapter spokesman, says the union remained committed to the bargaining process despite tough discussions at the negotiations table.

Changes being sought to the chapters' union agreement include amending health benefits' coverage so employees pay 10 per cent of costs. Under the outgoing collective agreement, the City is responsible for all costs.

Other major concerns include a proposal to have the City's insurance carrier determine which pharmaceutical drugs it will approve for treatment payment, as opposed to the decision being made by a medical physician. A reduction in sick and ill-dependent pay allowance for members who take more than 20 days leave has also been tabled.

Alloway says changes introduced to the collective when it was last renegotiated in 2012 aimed at addressing the City's concerns over issues like absenteeism and worker inflexibility do not appear to have made any difference, he says.

"They are certainly not utilizing the language that provided them with [increased] flexibility and efficiency [of workers] since that contract was enforced.

"They're now wanting to further strip that language away," Alloway says.

A committee responsible for reviewing absenteeism rates also failed to take place in the past four years.

Despite this, overall sick time among 416 members declined by about 16 per cent since 2011, Alloway says.

The City states on its bargaining website it wants to change its sick pay coverage to reduce absenteeism.

Tim Maguire, president of local 79, says the City's approach at the bargaining table has changed dramatically since four years ago.

"They want to get rid of the provisions that protect members' rights to their jobs -- they want to eliminate the involvement of the union in it and they want to have zero threshold for protection against contractors," he says.

At the moment, the jobs of permanent workers who have been in the City's employment for more than 15 years are protected under the redeployment clause from being contracted out.

The City wants to strip this entire clause from the contract, he says.

It is also seeking changes that would make it harder for part-time workers to secure stable and predictable hours, Maguire says.

No strike vote was taken by either chapters during the last round of collective agreement negotiations.

Statements on the City's bargaining site say the collective agreements currently in place are "not workable".

While no details on actual contract amendments are posted, the City states its proposals to both chapters included "responsible wage increases," "reasonable changes to benefits" and "wording that allows the City flexibility to have our employees work where they are needed."

Both chapters and the City have expressed their desire to avoid a work stoppage.

However, the No Board reports were last week issued by the Government for both sets of negotiations, initiating the two-week period leading to a work disruption.

If negotiators fail to reach an agreement in that time, a legal strike or lockout will begin on February 19 for local 416, and February 20 for local 79.
Meanwhile, the union for Toronto City public library workers, which represents about 2,300 full and part-time workers, began negotiations with the City over its collective agreement yesterday.
It is the local 4948 CUPE chapter.

Three months of negotiations:

  • Local 416 has met with the City of Toronto's bargaining committee on 15 occasions, for a total of about 26 hours since Oct 28
  • The City files for conciliation Dec 18
  • Requests No board report on Jan 29. Issued Feb 5
  • Pending work stoppage on Feb 19
  • Local 79 has met with the City's bargaining team 21 times for a total of about 34 hours since Oct 26
  • It files for conciliation Jan 13
  • No Board report requested Jan 29. Issued Feb 6
  • Pending work stoppage on Feb 20


Toronto City deputy mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of the Employee and Labour Relations committee, did not respond to requests for comment.

Teuila Fuatai is a recent transplant to Canada from Auckland, New Zealand. She settled in Toronto in September following a five-month travel stint around the United States. In New Zealand, she worked as a general news reporter for the New Zealand Herald and APNZ News Service for four years after studying accounting, communication and politics at the University of Otago. As a student, she had her own radio show on the local university station and wrote for the student magazine. She is rabble's labour beat reporter this year.

Photo: flickr/ Diego Torres Silvestre



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