Job Stability Is The Key Issue In Toronto

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JOB stability is the key issue in the negotiation stalemate between City of Toronto and inside workers, CUPE Local 79 President Tim Maguire says.

Addressing the talks between the city and his members on Wednesday, he said that one of the concerns for city employees is protecting ‘good’, stable jobs. Maguire said the city’s 23,000 inside workers will ‘ramp up’ an ongoing work-to-rule campaign as union officials’ talks with the city made little progress.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, the CUPE Local 79 president said negotiations are lagging and the two sides remain divided on some critical issues. He said: ‘Talks for some reason have continued to slow.

‘We’re here to bargain. Yesterday we waited all day for a response from the city and we’re here to continue working through the mediation process and they’ve continued to slow. We want to continue to negotiate.’

Union workers began a work-to-rule campaign on Monday after talks last weekend failed to produce a deal. The city reached an agreement with its outside workers, members of CUPE Local 416, last Friday.

So far, the campaign has aimed not to disrupt services, restricting workers to duties only in their primary job descriptions, as well as taking all mandated breaks and refusing to work overtime. Maguire didn’t say what form a ‘ramped-up’ campaign would take.

‘We will look at areas as we go through this, what tasks under job descriptions don’t need to be done, outside the job descriptions that don’t need to be done,’ he said at the news conference on Wednesday.

Maguire said competitive wage increases and job stability continue to be major sticking points. He said that the proposed wage increase for his members is nowhere close to the increase other groups have received in recent years, including Toronto police, whose budget exceeds $1-billion annually.

‘We still want the city to recognise that, yes there are good jobs at the city … but don’t chip away at the good jobs and turn them into precarious jobs, and where the are other precarious jobs at the city … increase stability around those jobs,’ Maguire said.

The union represents more than 20,000 inside workers, including employees at child-care centres, emergency shelters and permit offices. The union announced on Monday, 22 February: ‘Local 79 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees began work to rule action this morning, as a deal with the City of Toronto was not concluded by 12:01 a.m. The union has been trying to negotiate a new contract with the city since October.

‘Local 79 is concerned about the pace of progress,’ said Maguire. ‘Our position has been clear and consistent; we have removed dozens of proposals from the table, the city has not. If we are to reach a negotiated settlement, the city needs to meet us halfway.’

The key elements of Local 79’s framework for settlement:

• Reverse the trend to increasingly insecure, unstable work with some commitment to scheduling predictability for our more than 10,000 part-time, temporary or seasonal workers

• No cuts requiring frontline workers to pay hundreds or even thousands out of their pockets

• A joint process to review benefits and identify cost efficiencies and savings

• A modest wage increase, consistent with other city employee group.

Maguire said the City’s behaviour at this late hour is consistent with its approach throughout bargaining.

‘By and large, they have simply not negotiated: They tabled harsh cuts weeks ago, and for the most part have refused to budge an inch. While the Mayor has told Toronto residents he’s interested in a fair deal, it is clear his bargaining team has been instructed to push for a deal that would leave city workers with less than they have today. That’s not leadership.’

Maguire said the work-to-rule campaign will not affect service delivery Toronto residents depend on. ‘Our frontline workers will be undertaking actions that affect their employer, without causing any service disruption.’

He said: ‘The city achieves savings and efficiencies every day, as these dedicated workers arrive early, stay late, and work through their breaks and lunches. This work to rule action will give the City a clear idea of just how much our members give to the city.’

• While diverting attention to populist programmes like the sale of wine in grocery stores, Ontario’s Liberals ‘have made deep cuts to patient and resident care, funding health services well short of aging, inflation and population growth cost pressures,’ says Michael Hurley president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU)/CUPE.

At the same time as cuts to patient and resident care have deepened, says Hurley, Ontario has lowered corporate taxes to the lowest of any province or state in North America.

‘It’s incomprehensible that the Liberals are cutting nursing care and closing hospital beds and programmes to fund corporate tax levels lower than Alabama’s or Arkansas’s. Ontario must generate new revenue by increasing the taxes on corporation and reinvesting in health care staffing and services.’

Ontario provincial health care funding has been falling as a percentage of total provincial government programme spending and as a share of the economy. The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) estimates that total health funding by the Ontario government is only going up by about $352 million this year – or about 0.7 per cent. Funding is falling far behind cost pressures from population growth, population aging, inflation, and increased utilisation.

In 2015-16, Ontario hospital funding is $1,395.73 per capita while in the rest of Canada it is $1,749.69. That’s 25.4 per cent more funding for hospital care, says Hurley. Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa was set to release the 2016 budget on Thursday, February 25.

OHCU’s Hurley said, ‘The Liberal government must stop the deep cuts to patient care. Staffing levels should increase at least to the Canadian average. Funding for hospitals must increase by 5 per cent in order to overcome the 25.4 per cent shortfall in spending compared to the rest of the country.’

The consequences of too low funding for health care, is that Ontario hospital patients receive 6.1 hours less nursing care than the rest of Canada. Currently Ontario has the lowest registered practical nurse (RPN) staffing in Canada. Ontario has 1.11 practical nurses working in hospitals per 1000 population while the rest of Canada has 1.74. In other words, the rest of Canada now has 57 per cent more practical nurses working in hospitals (per capita) than Ontario.

‘With a growing and aging population, hospitals and long-term care homes are seriously understaffed. We believe understaffing is fuelling resident and patient assaults on health care staff,’ says Hurley.

‘Working alone with patients and residents who are distressed about waits, and the quality or lack of care, or who are suffering from mental illness or dementia, are what is making the problem of violence so acute. We are asking for legislation that makes assaulting a health care worker a serious criminal offence.’

OCHU the hospital division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) in Ontario represents over 30,000 hospital and long-term care staff. CUPE represents nearly 75,000 health care workers province-wide.