Sunday, March 28, 2010

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 !
New posts usually on Sundays

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Scofflaw (1)

Mayor Larry O'Brien is on the right track with his call to move OC Transpo into an "arm's length" relationship with city council.
Mayor Larry envisions OC Transpo operations overseen by a group of appointed "commissioners" -- something like a hospital board but with a bit more power.
The troubled transit operation was in the news again earlier this week -- the Canadian Human Rights Commission levied yet another fine because some bus drivers are still failing to comply with the Commission's order to call out the stops. While $12,000 is pretty small stuff in the grand scheme of city spending, it's giving taxpayers a hissy fit.
The apologist for the bus drivers, Councillor Alex Cullen who, in addition to chairing the city's transit committee, is one of the mayor wanna-be's, appeared on the local TV news to speak to the penalty issue.
Just a few more months until the new fully automated equipment which will announce the stops (equipment which, incidentally is costing taxpayers a bundle) is installed, he advised. It will be operational in the fall. Besides, it's only a few (about 20 per cent) of the drivers who are not calling out the stops. Some 80 per cent are complying. Nothing to worry about here.
Wonder how the councillor would feel if only 80 per cent of the taxpayers paid their property tax. Wonder how he'd feel if his stipend was reduced by 20 per cent. Bet he wishes his visually-impaired nemesis (the gentleman who should be awarded an Order of Canada for his work on behalf of the differently-abled) would take his white cane and his seeing eye dog and disappear into the woodwork.
This situation should have been resolved long ago. And it would have, if only, if only OC Transpo management and their bosses on city council had brass balls.
It would appear OC Transpo management and their city council bosses believe workers who are union members can't be fired. Not true. It may take a little longer to do it and managers need clear support and direction from their superiors.
"Progressive discipline" is how it's done. First comes the verbal warning, then the written warnings, then the 1-day suspension, then the 3-day suspension and if all that fails to correct the peoblem, the discharge. Arbitrators have recognized the difference between "can't do" and "won't do" and there are plenty of precedents for the discipline and eventual discharge of employees who "won't do." Bus drivers who persist in refusing to call out the stops despite being told by their employer to do it fall into the "won't do" category.
Obviously the will to implement progressive discipline in this instance hasn't been there given the fact this has been going on since 2007, when the Canadian Human Rights Commission ordered stops to be called out on OC Transpo routes. Apparently the view at city hall, is that it's easier to stiff the taxpayers for the cost of an expensive automated stop-calling system than it is to insist the workers do the job for which they are being paid. If, back in 2007, city council had advised OC Transpo management that "won't do" wouldn't be tolerated and heads would roll, the stiuation today would be very different. Bus drivers would be calling out the stops and taxpayers wouldn't be shelling out the dough.
Visually-impaired Ottawans are not the only folk who benefit from having bus operators call out the stops. During the winter months, this city's bus windows are so coated with grime that one needs Superman's X-ray vision to see through the dirt and read the street signs.
The mayoral campaign will be in full swing and we'll have heard from Councillor Cullen ad nauseam just about the time Ottawa's buses are supposed to start rolling equipped with the new automated stop-calling system. By October, it will have taken nearly four years for the city to comply with the Camadian Human Rights Commission directive. This was a transit committee matter. Councillor Cullen heads the transit committee. It's not something to be proud of. Where was the leadership ?
Meanwhile, kudos to the visually-impaired complainant who has persisted despite the odds, and to the Canadian Human Rights Commission for making Ottawa's city council look like a bunch of eunuchs.

Scofflaw (2)

Good news this week that the city now has the power to add unpaid fines to property tax bills. Guess what -- there's $23 million of these fines on the books -- enough to pay for a new arena with four ice surfaces, or part of the LRT system, or the Lansdowne Park restoration.
Bad news. There's another $12 million in outstanding fines which the city has more or less written off -- although the city's deputy-treasurer was quoted as saying that these won't be forgotten.
When the news broke earlier in the week a couple of scofflaws (people who scoff at the law by not paying fines levied against them when they've committed an infraction) appeared on local TVnews compalining about the unfairness of it all now that theyll have to pay up.
In Citizen Ellie's view, the only unfairness is that the rest of us taxpayers, who pay our fines promptly, have been carrying these bozos for years. One could perhaps understand it if the scofflaw was destitute. The ones who allowed themselves to be interviewed appeared to be well-fed and well-dressed owners of cars.
New posts usually on Fridays

Saturday, March 6, 2010

New Era Ahead ......As Feds Tighten Belt

"Canadian families and business have accepted the need for restraint. Fairness requires the government too should have to keep costs under control."
Jim Flaherty, Minister of Finance

Oh, if only more of our esteemed city councillors had espoused a similar view when the budget decisions were taken last month.
But there's good news on the horizon. The municipal election will be upon us in seven short months and there's every indication there will be a trickle-down effect from the feds' plans to have their employees (who make up a large chunk of this city's labor force) share some of the recession-fighting pain.
Mr. Flaherty's budget couldn't have come at a better time for those of us who want a thorough housecleaning at city hall. It couldn't have come at a worse time for the tax-and-spend chardonnay socialists who dominate council.
Imagine this: Joe Public Servant and his wife Jan (also a public servant) are sitting at their kitchen table looking at the city's interim property tax bill which has just arrived -- payment due on March 18, thank you very much !
Joe and Jan have just learrned that while they will still receive their 1.5 per cent negotiated wage increase this year, they are staring at a two-year wage freeze down the road. Their benefits could also be in for a revamping. Joe and Jan have just learned that their 1.5 per cent wage increase has to come out of their departments' existing budget. There will be no extra monies for wage increases. Wage increases can be covered in only a few ways -- elimination of fat and waste in existing programs, elimination of existing programs or (oh shock !!!) layoffs. Not good news.
Joe and Jan are looking at a property tax increase of 3.77 per cent, and a whole mess of so-called "rate increases" which are, in fact, tax increases which the dunderheads at city hall think they can hide under euphemisms such as "water and sewer charge". Not good news either.
Joe and Jan never thought much about municipal politics in the past. Never bothered to vote in municipal elections. Thanks to regular wage increases, excellent benefit coverage and iron-clad job security, they were able to afford the mortgage on their lovely Glebe home and property tax was just another unpleasantness which had to be faced twice a year. Not any more.
Mr. Flaherty's budget has changed all that. Fearing the worst, Joe and Jan now have to control their costs and suddenly property taxes, sewer and water charges, increased OC Transpo fares and paying for waste removal are front and center. Who are these people who represent us at City Hall ? How come it costs so much to live in this city ?
Joe and Jan are going to start asking these questions now -- starting with their ward councillor. Info, including councillors' e-mail addresses and phone numbers is readily avilable on the city's web site -- Joe and Jan plan to educate themselves in order to be ready to vote in October.
Joe and Jan also are heeding what economists are saying; next year's federal budget will be even tougher. Those who toil for the feds will be thinking very carefully about the folks they send to city hall for the next four years. There's no place for tax-and-spend social engineers in the reality of the new Ottawa environment. We need real engineers and successful private sector types at city hall who'll go out and really sell Ottawa as a place to do business, attracting good-paying jobs to replace all those which are going to disappear in the federal service, in health care and in education. Something at which the current council has been a dismal failure, just lackadaisically coasting along, thinking the good times would last forever.
We need to elect tough, hard-nosed people who will tell all those organizations which think its their right to tap into the property tax base to get off their duffs, to get out and raise their operating funds in the community or fold up their tents and disappear if they can't make it without a grant or loan from the ratepayers.
Yes, Ottawa was relatively cushioned from the ravages of the recession. But people in other parts of the country who bore the burden have made their feelings known to the Harper government. And while the economy is looking better, happy days are not here again in Ottawa.

Did My Ears Deceive Me ?

Did Citizen Ellie hear it right ? Was that council's queen of social engineering Diane Holmes telling the Great Canadian Theatre Company that they should do a better job of garnering community support when they came to council with their hands out looking for $175,000.00 of taxpayers' money ? Must be an election year, the taxpayers are getting restless and the geriatric councillor is looking for another four years at the trough.
New posts usually on Fridays