Monday, June 22, 2009

Megacity A Megamess – Toronto is on Strike

Canada’s largest city is facing its second city-wide strike in under a decade, as both inside and outside staffers walked off the job as of 12:01 this morning.

Local 416 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents 6,200 of the City of Toronto’s outside workers went on strike, as labour negotiations with the city failed.

The union representing the city’s additional 18,000 inside workers – CUPE Local 79 – also went on strike, in part to support their outside colleagues, and also – as it so happens – their union talks also hit a brick wall.

Both unions have been in negotiations for over six-months to renegotiate their collective bargaining contracts, which expired December 31, 2008.

The last time city employees went on strike was back in 2002 – also in the midst of a summer heat wave. A day after the first day of summer, Toronto is experiencing its first taste of real summer-like weather, with temperatures about 27C, but with the humidex it makes it feel more 31C.

The hot and humid weather will only add to the misery of the strike, as trash piles bake. Garbage collectors, parks and recreation employees, paramedics, city run pool staff, and the ferry service between Toronto’s mainland and it’s neighbouring communities on the islands all ground to a halt.

Inside workers on strike mean the city’s daycare centres are closed as are municipal offices – though local politicians should still be on the job.

Toronto police and fire services are not affected by the strike, nor is the city’s public transit system, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). Ambulance services are reduced due to the strike, and so are low priority calls to 9-1-1.

What an irresponsible and completely avoidable mess for one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities.

In an economy worse than the Great Depression, people with good paying jobs which not only provide them with a solid and steady income, but benefits most private-sector employees could only dream of, should be humbled by the very fact that they have jobs, let alone going half-cocked over a measly 18-unpaid sick days (which is one of the big burning issues for the outside workers).

The world’s largest company, General Motors, has slashed its workforce by thousands, and continues to announce layoffs on an almost regular basis. Other major companies around the world have had to let go of valuable, long-term employees because of the failing economy.

Unions do good things for their members. They fight the good fight; ensuring workers are compensated fairly, treated equally, and have safe and secure places of employment. However, sometimes, unions make unreasonable demands which fail to take into account the whole picture. They see bigger and better things for their members, without really considering the consequences to their member’s employers, the company’s customers, and the public’s safety.

Where has CUPE been these past few months – a Turkish prison? They should be thankful that employment slashing hasn’t hit their members the way it has hit the auto sector (which is also highly unionized).

And although they are in a legal strike position, isn’t it just as equally irresponsible to put people in harm’s way by stopping the collection of garbage during a heat wave? Garbage collection at any time of the year is a vital service, but becomes all the more of an issue as the humid conditions create a more hospitable environment for cockroaches, rats, seagulls, pigeons, racoons, and infestations not as common in the winter months. And all of these become a real health risk as they can spread disease.

Labour leaders aren’t solely to blame – part of the problem lies with the city as well. History has a tendency to repeat itself – just as in 2002 we had a summer of heat, humidity and garbage piling up on city streets. The city saw this coming. They know when their contracts end. The city knew from the strike of 2002 what negotiations are like what some of the key issues would most likely be, and what tactics the union would deploy.

Both the union and the city failed to act responsibly, and now Canada’s largest city is a city without the basics most modern civilizations enjoy.
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