Author: Howard Levitt
Publication: National Post
With all the issues being discussed by Toronto mayoralty candidates, one trumps all others. Unless the wages of city employees — by far a municipality’s greatest expense — are reined in, Toronto cannot recover financially. So, as Torontonians get ready to head to the polls on Oct. 25, I asked the mayoralty candidates the questions many have thus far avoided:
Q Are collective agreements with the outside civic workers and the Toronto Transit Commission restrictive to the city and/or too generous?
Sarah Thomson The agreements with the TTC and outside civic workers are fair. We have one of the best values for money in North America. The real issue is our front line workers are taking all the blame for problems caused by poor management.
George Smitherman City employees need to moderate their expectations in bargaining. If elected, I will lead by example, freezing my salary for the entire four years of my term. I will expect the same of councillors and a similar level of sacrifice will be required on the part of public servants to sustain public services. Overall, I will seek parity between the private sector and public sector wages and benefits.
Rocco Rossi The city must get tougher on wages and benefits. Since 2003, the average wages and benefits for city of Toronto workers have gone up 6.5% a year every year, compounded. That’s double the cost of living and double the wage increases of the average Torontonian. I am not anti-union, but I am anti-unfairness.
Joe Pantalone Neither. They are just right. Negotiating agreements involves a fine balance between the city and its unions.
Rob Ford In some ways, yes. But the source of the city’s financial problems is not collective agreements. It’s the attitude of city leaders who negotiated agreements without care for the taxpayers interests.
Q Is it your intention to bargain so as to delete provisions such as no contracting out and the sick leave benefit clause?
Thomson I will work with the union to come to the best solution for Toronto and our workforce. The sick leave benefit clause does not affect a large portion of employees and may be a negotiation tool the city and the union can come to agreement on.
Smitherman I am not prepared to reveal particular bargaining objectives at this time. I will say that when the city bargains with its employees, I will make sure expectations are clear and that there is strong leadership to bring bargaining to a conclusion with minimum disruption of city services.
Rossi As contracts come up for negotiations, I will pursue managed competition for some city services such as waste collection, as is done in Etobicoke. I am also in favour of contracting out other city services either to the private sector or, in the case of social services, the not-for-profit sector.
Pantalone There is no prohibition against contracting out in the CUPE 416 collective agreement. [only one of the city's collective agreements] In the last round of bargaining the city made the sick bank a priority, and by the end negotiated about $250,000 in savings as the sick bank is phased out. I see no reason we would want to go back on difficult work to give a fair deal to employees while saving taxpayers money.
Ford The city is more than $3-billion in debt, and City Hall expects to spend hundreds of millions more this year than it takes in. Taxpayers can no longer afford to pay for this ridiculous orgy of spending. If I am elected, future contracts will be negotiated with these cold fiscal realities in mind.
Q If so, will you persist even if the union strikes and let it continue until you succeed?
Thomson I try not to deal in “what-ifs”
Smitherman This is a matter of bargaining tactics that should be discussed in the abstract. When bargaining is required, I would make my expectations clear, based on my overall policy, and lead the city’s bargaining team to satisfactory conclusions that respect fiscal constraints and workers’ rights to fair treatment.
Rossi One reason the people of Toronto are so angry is because of what happened with the garbage strike a little over a year ago. The people of Toronto were prepared to tough it out during a summer garbage strike. As bad as it was, they weren’t ready to throw in the towel and settle without the gains they wanted to see. But City Hall let them down and Mayor Miller capitulated long before the people wanted to. That is the entrenched political culture at City Hall at work for its own interests and not the people’s interests. I want to end that.
Pantalone As these are not issues for the city, a strike would not be necessary.
Ford I will work with management and union leaders to ensure the best interests of the taxpayer are represented in every final agreement. That interest won’t change just because it may get harder to achieve during a strike.
Q If there is a strike, will you train replacement workers in advance, utilize replacement workers, contract out work and encourage unionized employees to cross picket lines?
Thomson With any strike or labour negotiation the circumstances are never predictable, my actions will depend entirely on the circumstances.
Smitherman I will seek to avoid strikes through setting clear expectations and good leadership in advance of any potential strike action.
Rossi It does not serve the interests of good labour relations to negotiate in advance in public.
Pantalone Hypothetical questions do not necessarily prepare us for the subtle reality of actual conflicts. But it is generally irresponsible to the taxpayers to engage in tactics which impair calm negotiations, invite expensive legal action, and prolong disputes.
Ford In the event of a strike, we would take appropriate measures to ensure the taxpayers interests are respected at all times — and would act to ensure customer service levels are protected to the extent possible.