The Roller Coaster End to Toronto's Garbage Strike is Over

At last, the roller coaster end of the Toronto city workers' strike is cruising to an end. Local 79, representing the inside workers, has ratified the deal; local 416, representing outside workers, and after haggling over the get-back-to-work protocol, will vote on it today; and City Council will vote on it tomorrow in a private in-camera meeting, closed to the public, the very public who will be paying for it come budget-property-tax-increase time next year.

If all goes well, local 79 workers will resume work tomorrow, Friday. And according to Mayor David Miller, the garbage workers in local 416 will resume work Friday at 12:01 am and work all Friday and Saturday to clean up the streets. Whatever they don't finish cleaning up by end of Saturday, the city will hire private contractors to complete the job. So Mark Ferguson, the head of local 416, has gotten about 40 hours of overtime for his workers, assuming they work the full 48 hours and get overtime pay for all those hours but for their regular 8-hour day on Friday.

And so the Toronto Sun pretty much got it right. According to the Mayor on CFRB this morning, workers will receive a total of 5.6% wage hike over 3 years -- 1.75% in first year, 2% in second, and 2.25% in third year; new employees will be put on the short-term disability program; existing workers may either take a buyout of their sick days and move onto the short-term disability program or continue to bank sick days until they retire. He asserted that this method of phasing out the sick day bank is the same one Mayor Hazel McCallion did for Mississauga and former Mayor Doug Holyday for the former city of Etobicoke. (I cannot independently confirm that fact.) He also stated that 5,000 workers have reached retirement age of 55 and will soon be replaced by new employees, so the sick day bank issue doesn't apply to them anyway. According to Sue-Ann Levy of the Toronto Sun, there are 20,000 full-time workers, so that's about one-quarter of the workforce who will be retiring soon with their nice sick-day-bank bonus package.

Mayor Miller was adament when this strike started that ending the sick day bank was the key issue. The implication was that it would end, really end, not be a continuing option for existing city employees who had it. He tweeted (and good for him for speaking so directly to Torontonians, even though he must've known people like me may use his words against him):
"Enough is enough. The city's proposals are fair and affordable - time to say "yes" and get back to work."8 July 2009)

"RT @ryanmerkley: City offer to unions now public. Read it here:" (10 July 2009)

"@thetelevixen I agree: the strike needs to end now. City's position is reasonable; union leaders have to find a way to say yes." (21 July 2009)
I outlined this fair and reasonable offer on July 13th, and it clearly stated a buyout plan to end the sick day bank now. It really does look like Miller -- or more accurately the negotiating team that was given a mandate by a committee of Council and all those who vote for it tomorrow -- caved to the unions.

But wait.

A few days ago, Dr. Allison McGeer, she of Mount Sinai Hospital whose standards of hygiene -- you know, that basic thing necessary to keep infections at bay, infections like the flu -- revolt me, warned that Toronto was now vulnerable to the HINI flu because the public health workers were on strike instead of planning to deal with the second surge that will arrive in the fall. Although some dispute just how dangerous this flu is, asserting that no flu in its second round has ever been worse than in its first round, and this one has been pretty mild, especially compared to the very large number of people who usually die in Canada from plain old flu, governments are primed to listen and respond to this warning. In other words, McGeer gave Premier Dalton McGuinty's government a reason to legislate an end to this strike.

And there's the rub.

Miller did cave to the unions. All he had to do was wait it out. But could he? He was impatient from the get go. Actually he made mistakes from months back. He ought to have worked with Council, opponents and friends, to reach a common objective: fix the city's budget. He ought to have made a big symbolic and practical push on that by convincing Council to roll back its wage hike (and as I argued before, it is a hike, not a cost-of-inflation adjustment). He ought to have at last fully set aside idolatory, I mean ideology, and focus on the common goal for us all: reduce city expenses. Also, did he have talks with McGuinty about ensuring no legislative end to the strike and get a promise from him to allow it to play out as it did in Windsor? Given his utopian musings at the beginning about the strike not lasting long, I doubt it.

However, all this became mute after McGeer spoke and the province started to see the health effects of public health being on strike, and perhaps too the paramedics being reduced in numbers. According to Miller on CFRB, when asked by John Moore, a legislative end was coming. And with that, the unions would've been in cushy territory with sick day bank continuing and nice wage hikes more like the police one of 12% over 3 years -- which makes me wonder really, why when arbitrators are so generous to unions and ignore city budgets that the union doesn't want binding arbitration?

This was the best deal we could get with the looming threat of back-to-work legislation hanging over our heads because of course the province would not have insisted that the city's offer would be part of that legislation. Without that threat, this was nowhere near Miller's stated objective, which time and patience would have made happen.

My only question now is will my garbage be picked up? Workers have not done so since February...or was it January...only managers have, and I wonder if that was because of having not contract and that they will now they have a new one. I hope so. Cause for me, the strike has been a holiday from endless calls to the city and futile early mornings of putting the garbage out only to take it back in at the end of the day.


Exactly. Miller did so wrong this time. He could have gained popularity with this strike (he probably wanted to) but thanks to his bad management he only lost it. He can say goodbye to his (municipal politician) career. Regards, Elli.
I agree. I think other politicians lost an opportunity too, especially all those who aspire to be Mayor. They could have shown a contrasting style of leadership to Miller, not in opposition to him but just in a public way of dealing with the garbage on the streets or with the workers picketing the dumps.

I just hope voters will remember this when it matters and look for real leadership in whomever they vote for.
Sal M said…
Re: Mayor David Miller, the city councilors and the garbage strikers

Mayor David Miller and the striking unions played us all once again. They seem to belong to the same side. The Mayor gave away our money for nothing and we are expected to be thankful for the end of the strike. What was the reason for all the mess our City had to live in during the strike? What kind of game is this?

Many of my friends and I feel that we had enough of our City politicians, our Mayor and all councilors regardless of the special interest group they may represent, games. Most importantly, we have had more than enough with our City’s Unions and their members the way they hijack and blackmail us the Taxpayers with their arrogance and their selfish ridiculous demands.

We all think it is about time that decision such as salary increases to all our elected City politicians as well as demands from the City’s Unions’ workers put on the ballot during the municipal elections and let us vote on them. BESIDES, aren't we the ones who pay for these services through our hard earned tax dollars AND aren't we the ONLY ones who can be the judge for the quality of service we receive from them all? Putting these items on the ballots during a municipal election will be the least can be done for a true Democracy put to work. Also, we want to see any major issues affecting our lives, again us the Taxpayers’ lives, such as future expansions of the TTC or the 30 year old matter of the fate of the Gardiner! Remember the waist of money on the Sheppard subway system that goes nowhere and is underused? What a waist among the thousands of waist projects our City politicians vote to execute only because of the best interest of their own special groups.

We in North America scream and raise hell for the unfairness of the tyrants in Iran, but we overlook our own tyrants and dictators in our own back yard? What happen to our true democracy? Our suggestion to put these issues on the ballot WILL bring back to our City a true democracy.

Thank you. Sal M