Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Strike Out

This picture is but a small glimpse at what Toronto looks like these days. Garbage piles up on the streets. Parks, rinks, and baseball diamonds have been requisitioned as temporary garbage dumping sites and bags pile ten high as they fill the rink. As you pass certain alleys or dumpsters you smell the sweet, putrid aroma or decomposing food scraps. Welcome to the Centre of the Universe.

While the strike doesn't affect us as strongly as it does others in the city (being part of an apartment management company we have private contractors for our garbage), there are many other aspects of the strike. We found where the nearest swimming pool was to take Daija only to have it closed the next day due to the strike. Daija has been having some trouble eating so we called the public health line only to be told to call back - don't we know there is a strike happening? Today, I have time to write a blog because all Canada Day festivites have been cancelled. Daycares are closes, summer camps cancelled, parks neglected, etc...

Normally, I withhold my minor frustrations with unions because I know their historical importance in fighting for rights I now enjoy. While I argue that they have lost their way and have pervertyed their original goals, I can still see the spirit is there. Unfortunately, this strike seems to have turned all union supporters to the other side. I think it would be hard to find a soul in Toronto (outside of the union) who feels this is a reasonable strike.

Comments on CBC's message boards read something like this: "SHAME...SHAME...SHAME...
..Nothing but organized extortion", "
disband the union, contract's that simple
This is absurd, unions are becoming more and more like cartels holding the public hostage".... and on and on. And this is from a normally far-left audience.

The main quibbles in this dispute seem to be over the ability to bank sick days and cash them in, a perk the union "earned" last contract dispute. The city argues that in this economic climate they simply can't afford some of these bonuses any more.

To this I say: Fire the striking workers; pull a Ronald Reagan. In a time when the private sector is cutting jobs and costs how can the public sector be unaffected? Be happy you get to keep your job! You're striking and making the people suffer because you want to bank sick days? You've got to be kidding me. These guys start at $20 an hour, have great benefits without much training/education - and you want to bank sick days? This has to be the most ill-timed, poorly thought out strike to date. There is zero public support and for once the majority is telling the city to take a hard line with the strikers and I hope they do.

The union gambled, chose a strike date around the summer and Canada hoping to add extra pressure to the city, and has now struck out. It's time for them to gracefully bend and hope that, when their contract comes back up in however many years time, they play their cards better. It's either that or privatization. Job or no job.


Darrel said...

Well formed post but... I take exception to your line about training and education. Those on strike are nurses, Paramedics, EMTs and others with extensive educations and experience. The average salary of a city worker is $45k/yr. Not a lot given the cost of living in Toronto.

As far as banking sick days go? Why not? How many do they get in a year? Is it enough to cover them if they say have a heart attack, or get creamed crossing the street? Being able to bank sick days is what allows people to survive when a catastrophic illness/injury befalls them.

Privatizing rarely if ever works. Show me one example where it has. I can point to a couple where it has failed dismally.
Privatization of hospital cleaning services in BC. A recent report released regarding a fatal outbreak of c.dif. in Nanaimo pointed plainly at the lack of cleanliness of the hospital, in fact all hospitals in BC have seen a dramatic increase in AROs since the housekeeping went private.
Road maintenance in BC has been declining steadily since highways contracted out. It may be fine around the larger centers but in rural and remote areas of the province it has become a near disaster.

Now back to the union thing. I think it has become too easy for governments to point to the economy and say "we can't afford this" well what about their salaries? Have they had a raise recently? What are they doing personally to ease the burden on the public purse? That is where it needs to start. Looking at the union as the bringer of all things evil is to look at the issue with a rather one dimensional perspective. There are two sides to every labour dispute and the employer has just as much to do with a work stoppage as the union. Usually while talks are progressing job action is kept to a minimum.

I have not been following events in Toronto that closely but I am willing to bet you're not getting the whole story, especially given the media's traditional disdain for trade unions. Have you sought out their perspective from their sources?

Unions still have a place and it is not as far removed as you may think. In a recent BC supreme court decision against the labour relations board it came out that the LRB acted with bias when it sided with the employer of a company that was paying workers less than minimum wage and then fired them when they sought the protection of a trade union. Or the sweat shop in Chinatown where employees were forced to work 7 days a week of be fired. Yes these things still occur and it is the unions that fight it. I have had my issues with unions and still do from time to time but now that I have seen glimpses of how governments allow workers to be treated I shudder to think about what it would be like without unions to fight on our behalf.

Union busting is a bad idea as they are the only ones preventing us from going back to life in the 1920s when workers had no rights and employers could do what they will with them.

Eric said...

Thanks for the comments Darrel though I feel this strike is much different than the one you're currently engaged in, for a number of reasons.

You say, "they are the only ones preventing us from going back to life in the 1920s". This is union rhetoric and when we break it down, totally untrue. The general public has supported many a strike and is more than willing to back the little guys - when their demands are reasonable. As I said in my post, I usually support the work unions are doing (such as in Victoria) but this is a different ball game.

The union in Toronto has not been reading the news or perhaps they would have realized that cities across the country have been freezing wages, decreasing numbers, etc... including at the politician ranks. The city of Toronto is not trying to bring us back to the 1920s, in fact they're not even decreasing salary. It comes to certain "perks" that you couldn't find except in the rarest of private companies.

Toronto's workers have used the public as a bargaining chip with little regard for anything but their "perks". They block people from dumping garbage in dumping locations, and harass those who do. And yet publicly decry their lack of support from the public, saying "we don't understand."

Talk to one of the tens of thousands that have lost their jobs in Ontario this year so far - you're right, they don't understand. They wish they had their job, didn't have to line up for EI, and can only dream of banked sick days.

I fully support the strike in Victoria and hope it gets resolved soon. Cheers.

Darrel said...

I don't see it as rhetoric mainly because things are going back that way already. As an example some workers on the "Canada Line" project were being paid less than minimum wage and were fired when they complained. They went to the labour relations board which ruled that the employer could indeed pay less than what the law demands. Where was the public outcry? There wasn't one because it wasn't "news worthy" until the BC Supreme court overturned the ruling and charged the vice-chair of the LRB with bias. Also remember that unions are a direct result of how government and employers were treating workers; I am not so naive to think that society has evolved that much in 80 years.

The only "perk" I've heard about is the carrying over of sick days. When my mother had a heart attack several years ago it was the fact that she had 20+ years of banked sick days that she was able to survive financially. That, in my opinion, is not a "perk" but a survival tool and you do find it in a fair number of unionized private companies.

I hope our strike is resolved soon but with all the illegal activity going on with my employer and government's side of the table I don't have much hope. Did you know that the LRB actually took steps to limit what and how the union executive could communicate with the membership? or that the employer attempted to fire at least 3 employees who were doing nothing more than a start of shift pre-trip inspection again as mandated by law?

For those and other reasons I won't bore you with here I reject your claim of rhetoric.

Hope you guys are settling into the new digs okay, give your ladies hugs from us.


Anonymous said...

For public health reasons alone, garbage pick-up essential service, just like most aspects of health care or policing. You can't have garbage collectors going on strike, especially in such a large city like Toronto. With all the public health problems we have these days, including H1N1, the last thing any Canadian city needs is a garbage strike. I'm all for unions and fair treatment for workers. What would happen if the police go on strike? This is turning a beautiful city into one big pile of disease-ridden, filth-covered garbage. Contracting garbage collection is a no-brainer and this means no strikes - ever again. Or...make it an essential service.

Darrel said...

Actually, the last time the city workers went on strike in Vancouver the "public health" card was played by the city and both the health authority's and province's chief public health officers investigated and found that there was not an uncommon risk to the public. They evaluated every week and that was the ruling for the entire duration of the strike which was also in the heat of the summer.

Eric said...

Not to lean one way or the other in the "public health" debate (to be honest, it probably depends on one's perception or scale of risk) but to compare the summer heat in Vancouver to the summer heat in Toronto is comparing geckos to dinosaurs - a whole different beast.

Darrel said...

Agreed about the heat comparison. But If it is a concern then why haven't the medical health/public health officers waded in? Stench and flies alone doesn't constitute a public health "emergency". unpleasant definitely, a risk to public safety - not necessarily at the moment but possibly in the future.