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CUPE 416 signs contract

Pam Johson

February 14, 2012

Toronto city workers in CUPE 416 voted to accept a deal that includes concessions on job security following a bitter round of bargaining. Mayor Ford, after signaling that the workers would be locked out if they did not accept the huge concessions on the table, then threatened to impose the harsh conditions on workers anyway, forcing an eleventh hour deal.

The deal is being hyped in the mainstream media as good for workers based on a miniscule wage increase that will not kick in for two years. While it is not the sharp kick in the teeth Ford had on the table—a proposal to gut job security and end the collection of union dues, tantamount to a stripping of union rights—the deal is a step backward for city workers.

The main concession is no bumping rights until workers reach 15 years of service. This means that if jobs are contracted out any worker without 15 years seniority can be laid off. This gives Ford and his city hall cronies the ‘flexibility’ they want to privatize and contract out public services.

While some have painted the deal as a victory, others see this push back of city workers as evidence that workers and unions will not fight. But this is a mischaracterization.

After the experience of the 2009 strike, city workers had no appetite to strike this time. In 2009, ‘pro-labour’ mayor David Miller attacked CUPE 416 and 79, refusing to offer them what other city workers had been offered. Striking workers were faced with the total silence of left-leaning city councilors, the acrimony created by garbage piled up in parks and daily anti-union screeds in the press. Exacerbating the situation, CUPE leadership was caught off guard and the labour movement was very slow to build solidarity for the workers. The consequence was that CUPE did not take a strike vote in this round of negotiations.

The 2009 strike was a wake-up call for CUPE and the labour movement, which has been slowly rebuilding its solidarity muscles. Thousands have traveled on buses and rallied to support workers at Vale Inco in Hamilton and Caterpillar in London. CUPE 416 revived door-to-door campaigning, and labour along with community groups pushed back Ford’s austerity agenda on the budget and transit. As a consequence, the labour movement was preparing solidarity and poised to bring members out in the event of a strike or lockout of city workers this time.

It is important to recognize the difference in the state of labour/community solidarity between 2009 and now, but this is a process that must continue as the full-blown austerity agenda is being unleashed on workers.

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