Author: Howard Levitt
Publication: National Post
While the excessive wages and benefits of municipal employees rose to prominence in recent civic strikes, those wages are being made by public sector workers at all levels.
Salaries of unionized workers tend to be most excessive when employers’ negotiators are not spending their own money. Which is why wage increases at large employers often exceed those at smaller firms where the owners are directly involved in the bargaining process.
In the public sector, where the employer is essentially the taxpayer, who is represented by politicians who find labour peace the surest route to reelection, the situation is exacerbated. It doesn’t that help those politicians, particularly municipal ones, have little if any experience in labour relations and often are reliant on unions for funding and campaign volunteers.
For example, although the vast and unfunded sick-leave bank with up to six months pay per employee at departure, stole the majority of civic outrage during the recent strike by Toronto outside workers (largely because the City made that its issue of principle), the collective agreement provided those workers other, greater benefits that entirely escaped public scrutiny. The agreement contains 258 pages of benefits and union rights — on top of vastly excessive wages relative to those made by private sector workers performing similar functions.
These include a shocking prohibition against any contracting out that results in job loss, employees maintaining higher wages up to five years after they move to a lower position; up to seven weeks paid vacation each year; unlimited paid time off for 16 employees to prepare for and negotiate against the City at each round of bargaining, and tempororary employees receiving the same generous benefits as permanent ones after six months of employment.
In the public sector, such provisions are mainstream. Declaring workers an essential service and invoking arbitration rather than a strike is not a solution: arbitrators only compare agreements to others in the public sector.
To eliminate such excesses in municipal collective agreements, I suggest the following:
-Require candidates for councillor and, particularly, mayor, to clearly state whether they are prepared to gut agreements and create parity with the taxpayers. Vote only for those who will and evaluate whether candidates have the stomach, strength and resilience to follow through;
-When facing a strike, openly train replacement workers. Realizing they could be replaced, unionized workers may well stand down and accept management’s offer. And if not, the employer has the ability to operate reasonably seamlessly, as well as provide temporary jobs and skill training to the unemployed;
-If there is a strike and you lack sufficient employees, managers and replacement workers to continue operating, contract out the balance of the work. This eliminates the impact of a strike on the public, effectively breaking it and ultimately compelling workers to accept management’s terms;
-Do not permit lawlessless. Where there is violence on the picket line against replacement workers or contractors lay charges. Similarly, if there is retribution against employees who worked through the strike, discipline or discharge the culprits.
-Where there is an attempt to prevent or limit access to municipal or other locations only bring an injuction. By law, picketing is allowed only to provide information, not to obstruct access, even for five minutes.