Strike’s over, who won and lost?

A reflection on the civic labour dispute
(This was written Aug. 7 for Town Crier.)

So the 39-day strike is over.
Are you still wondering who emerged victorious from this civic battle? 
I am. 
“Everyone loses. Civility is lost. Spin replaces truth. The Canadian sense of compromise is compromised,” lefty councillor Joe Mihevc tells me. “I don’t know any strike where people can say, ‘this ended well’.”
No one wins in a strike, Mayor David Miller said repeatedly at press conferences and I agree. 
But clearly this messy public fight can’t be summed up as simply as “everyone lost”. So I’m taking a closer look at exactly who won and lost from the point of view of the residential taxpayers, the City of Toronto and unions. 
I also looked at the labour unrest from the perspective of businesses, the mayor and society at large, click here for that story.

It is easy to know who lost and that’s taxpayers, right wing councillor John Parker tells me.
“At a time when others are taking pay cuts or having their salaries frozen, the city has agreed to give its unionized workers six percent (raise) over three years,” says Parker, a member of the unofficial opposition to the mayor a.k.a. the Responsible Government Group.
The city calculates the net wage/benefit increase as 5.6 percent over three years adding a total of $75.61 million to city spending between now and 2011. 
At the beginning of bargaining CUPE locals 416 and 79 were asking for a 12 percent hike costing $114.56 million over a three-year contract.
So taxpayers saved $38.9 million with this deal, according to the city.
The city phased out the employee sick bank plan and expects to save $140.7 million over five years. 
During the strike residents lost nearly all the municipal services they pay for. There was no garbage pick-up, daycare, camps, pools, permits, ferries to the islands and so on (rebates were issued in some cases).
Those near the 26 temporary dumps lived with a mountain of rotting garbage that was not picked up for the entirety of the strike. 
One upside, communities did “win” as they came together to mow fields so kids could play and cleaned up neighbourhood garbage.

City of Toronto
Budget chief Shelley Carroll tells me the unions’ pay hike is half what it has been in years past, so this is a win for the bottom line.
The new contract doesn’t end the sick bank but phases it out over time. Chalk this up to a partial win for the city as it will reduce sick bank costs by $140 million over five years, says city manager Joseph Pennachetti.
However, it will still cost the city millions to buyout banked sick days from employees who choose to join the short-term disability program.

The unions got a six percent pay hike over three years, half of the 12 percent they sought so that’s a loss for them. 
On the controversial issue of banking sick days, about 18,000 of the 30,000 striking workers have won because they have options under the new contract. 
Eligible workers can get a payout of banked sick days and then move to the new short-term disability plan. Or they can continue to bank up to 18 sick days annually and upon retirement cash out unused sick days. 
“They continue to keep it and accrue benefits for the entire employment. That came as a shock,” councillor Parker says. “Some people used the word betrayal.”
Part timers and new hires will be moved onto the new system which allows up to six months of sick pay a year with proof of illness.
Garbage workers also won as they collected overtime to clean up all the waste that accumulated during their strike.
However, the unions did lose when it comes to public perception. 
“Certainly residents communicated to me that unions were not reading the economy of the country correctly,” Mihevc says. “And they used tactics that alienated the community.”
So what do you think? Who won and lost the strike?


One response to “Strike’s over, who won and lost?

  1. Pingback: More strike winners and losers « Kris Scheuer

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