Hume: Hardcore Ford supporters will be irked by city labour deal

By Christopher Hume Urban Issues, Architecture

Though we have yet to find out about the details of the story, the authors assure us the ending will be a happy one.

Both the City of Toronto and its outside workers’ union, CUPE Local 416, insisted that the contract worked out between the two gives both enough of what they want to claim satisfaction, if not victory.

The big issue, of course, was workplace security, or as Mayor Rob Ford and others on the right put it, jobs for life. Sources tell the Star that the new starting point for seniority rights will be 15 years, down from the city’s suggested 22 years, but more than the five years the union wanted.

That represents a serious concession on the workers’ part, but the provision covers 70 per cent of the local’s 6,000 membership.

On the other hand, Ford can continue his job-cutting ways and also rightly claim he averted a strike. But given the lack of public support for unions in general and Local 416 in particular, still widely resented in the aftermath of the 2009 strike, he was widely expected to act much more drastically.

Still, Ford has made no secret of his desire to cut Toronto’s 50,000-strong workforce by about 7,000 positions. Already, 1,100 temporary workers face layoffs as a result of the 2012 operating budget passed just weeks ago.

Sources also tell the Star that the new contract gives employees wage hikes, something they had declined during the bargaining process. In addition, EMS will be declared an essential service, which means binding arbitration will replace negotiated deals and may open the door to part-time emergency staff.

Most important of all, perhaps, the settlement affirms a process under threat from Ford and his council allies. Listening to Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday and 416 president, Mark Ferguson, in recent weeks, one got the impression the two men were from different planets.

Given Ford’s anti-union stance and general belligerence, a lock-out seemed inevitable. The union insisted it wouldn’t strike, but there’s only so much it could accept before such action becomes necessary.

In the face of such intransigence, the fact of a negotiated deal looms larger than it would in less extreme times.

No doubt, some on the left would like to interpret the contract as a defeat for Ford. Though it gives him less than he wanted, it leaves him in a position he can defend, even promote. But to Ford’s hardcore supporters, the concessions will be irksome. In a political climate defined by insults, slogans and threats, mere survival of the negotiating process counts as some kind of reprieve, if not win.

Keep in mind the backdrop are the actions of Caterpillar and what it has done at the Electro-Motive plant in London, Ont.

Ford’s bigger problem may be that the settlement comes on the heels of a number of fumbled initiatives that include the 2012 budget and the Port Lands mega-development to the growing fiasco of the light rail transit line on Eglinton Ave.

Word now is that on Monday TTC chair and (former) Ford ally, Karen Stintz, will present a petition to the city clerk demanding a special council meeting later this week to discuss the controversial LRT. She and her new-found allies want to kill the mayor’s ruinous scheme to bury the entire Eglinton line and restore some common sense to the transit plan.

Stintz, who claims to have 24 signatures on the petition, has the numbers to defeat Ford.

It’s enough to make one appreciate the virtue of a weak-mayor system, if not a weak mayor.

Christopher Hume can be reached at chume@thestar.ca

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