Show Some Leadership
Councillor Rick Chiarelli is to be commended for putting together a motion which calls on city council to freeze wages of all union-exempt city employees . Said freeze would affect the 700-plus members of the city's "sunshine club" ( persons earning more than $100,000.00 per year) along with the mayor and councillors.
In calling for such a freeze, Councillor Chiarelli is following up on actions already taken at the federal and provincial levels. Unfortunately his motion does not go far enough in that unlike what's happened at the senior levels of government, it does not speak to the issue of a wage freeze for the city's unionized staff.
Federal and provincial unionized employees now know their existing collective agreements will be honored until expiry date. But in the next round of negotiations there will be zero, zilch, nada on the table for wage/benefit increases. In fact federal employees may also face an employer proposal to change how their pension plans are funded.
Councillor Chiarelli's motion should be ammended to contain the same language -- collective agreements honored until expiry date. No wage/benefit offers in the next round of bargaining.
Even though Councillor Chiarelli's motion is silent in regard to a wage freeze for the city's unionized workforce, Councillor (and mayor wannabe) Alex Cullen (who's never met a special interest group or union he didn't like) jumped right into the fray stating that he didn't see why unionized city employees ("little guys" as he calls them) should have to bear the burden.
His thought was echoed by Ottawa and District Labor Council boss Sean McKenny, who did a bit of mild sabre-rattling of his own. Boss McKenny is remembered for his involvement in the trumped-up influence-peddling charges brought against Mayor Larry O'Brien which resulted in that farce of a trial in which all charges against Mayor Larry were dismissed.
Why should the city's unionized work force be exempt from a wage freeze after their collective agreements expire ? Why should they be so privileged when just about every ratepayer in the city has had to or will have to make sacrifices and adjust their lifestyle as a result of the recession ? Why are they any different from the seniors who are trying to make ends meet on fixed incomes and fear being forced out of their homes by ever-increasing property taxes ? Why are they any different from unemployed former Nortel workers and Nortel pensioners ? Why are they different from the working poor -- the folks who toil in retail and the hospitality industry for minimum wage ? Why are they any different from young families where one or both parents are working two jobs to keep up, while at the same time seeing their property taxes exceed their mortgage payments ? What makes the city';s unionized workers so special ? It's time they too stepped up to the plate.
Freezing the wages of elected officials an union-exempt staff is the first step the council has to take if it is serious about bringing wage costs under control.
It's an absolute MUST if the city, as the employer, looks ahead to arbitration in the next round of bargaining. An employer has to justify its position, and if union-exempt staff continue to enjoy wage/benefit increases and bonuses, it makes it very hard to argue that unionized workers should be treated differently.
Arbitrators have to consider the following criteria when making awards: a) the employer's ability to pay in light of its fiscal situation; b) the extent to which services may have to be reduced in light of an arbitrator's decision, if current funding and taxation levels are not increased; c) a comparison of the terms and conditions of employment and the nature of the work performed between the affected employee and other comparable employees in the public and private sectors; d) the economic situation in Ontario and its municipalities; and e) the employer's ability to attract and retain qualified employees.
It's no secret that arbitrators in Ontario -- who are mostly university professors or retired judges -- have been picking the taxpayers' pockets for the past 20 years with their wage awards in the province's public sector which includes health care, education and municipalities. The employer's ability to pay has been honored more in the breach than in the observance. Arbitrators charged with the duty of settling labor disputes in the municipal sector seem to view the property owner as having deep pockets just crammed with dollars to pay more and more taxes and user fees.
Citizen Ellie is optimistic that this attitude is about to change. In centres such as Windsor and Oshawa, populated as they are with scores of unemployed auto workers, teachers are having a hard time justifying their wage/benefit demands to their neighbors who are trying to exist on the dole. Not a pretty situation and likely to spread elsewhere in the province.
The wage/benefit award to the first union past the post usually sets the percentage increases for the next one up. So it would behoove council, as the employer, to ensure that whoever is arguing the city's position before an arbitrator is well-prepared, can negate all those arguments that Ottawa's employees should have parity with their Toronto counterparts, and doesn't forget that the property taxpayer is the true employer of the city's workers. The propoerty owner is the "ghost" at the bargaining tasble. If the city's legal and human resources staff are not up to the task, then this would be THE occasion where the hiring of an outside, experienced employer-side negotiator (i.e. a consultant) would be justified.
So lets hope the current bunch warming the seats at the council table demonstrate they have the guts to take on the task. This is way more important than LRT, BRT, Lansdowne Live etc. all lumped together. Please -- no more of this "we can't take on the unions" crybaby attitude. Yes, you can. Freeze the wages of union exempt staff. Set an example by freezing your own wages. Get a negotiating team which is ready to fight hard for a better deal with the unions. Show some leadership !
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