March 2012

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Toronto Mayor Launches Attack on Public Sector Workers

Taking a page out of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's anti-union playbook, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has launched an unprecedented attack on public sector workers in Canada's largest city, threatening employees with a lockout in his effort to privatize vital city services.

"Ford is trying to set a standard for union-busting that would reverberate across Canada if he is successful," says Toronto Local 353 Business Manager Steven Martin, who represents more than 60 electricians employed by the city.

Ford is attempting to eliminate job security provisions — contractual protections that prevent the city from unilaterally contracting out jobs to private industry.

The mayor, who was elected in 2010 on an anti-labour platform fueled in part by voter alienation over a six-week sanitation worker strike, blames public sector unions for what he calls a record city deficit. But a recent analysis by the think tank the Wellesley Institute finds that the city is actually running a $154 million surplus.

"Ford's concern isn't money, its politics," says First District Vice President Phil Flemming. "He's playing up a crisis to achieve his goal of busting the power of unions."

Ford has also threatened to slash all department budgets by 10 percent, cuts that would have a dramatic effect on the quality of life for city residents by reducing the availability of key public services.

Toronto employs more than 50,000 workers — from librarians to garbage collectors — many of whom belong to the Canadian Union of Public Employees. More than 2,000 jobs could be eliminated under Ford's plan, says Toronto and York Region Labour Council President John Cartwright.

"City workers are clearly the main target, and there is an open disdain for what happens to their lives," he wrote in the Toronto Star. "There is a lot of money at stake and tremendous profit to be made in the plans of the Ford administration."

Union employees are covered under multiple contracts — all of which expired at the end of last year. But it's CUPE Local 416, which represents more than 6,000 employees, that will be the first to face a lockout. The mayor was granted authorization from the Ontario Ministry of Labour to lock out CUPE workers under what is called a "no board report."

While Local 353 is not directly threatened by the cutbacks, a lockout would force the city to temporarily lay them off until the dispute is settled.

"Even if we're not in the crosshairs, our members' job security is at stake," Martin says.

Ford's actions have served to build solidarity between private- and public-sector union members. The goal, says council leaders who are spreading the message in every workplace and neighborhood, is to convey that working people need to stand together against Ford's anti-labour austerity agenda.

Union activists say that building links with community leaders and opening channels of communication with taxpayers to show that good jobs and decent public service go together is key.

"It is important that all working families come together for a fair and just resolution to these issues," says Martin.

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Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's austerity agenda has united union members and community groups in opposition to his proposed cutbacks.

Photo used under a Creative Commons License from Flickr user PostBear.