Demanding times

Public workers have it better already. By asking for more, they’ve sparked anger and envy.


Demanding timesThe three-week-old strike by municipal workers in Toronto has spawned mountains of stinking garbage, left public swimming pools empty and wreaked havoc for working parents who rely on city-run daycares. But the strike has also brought with it something else: the sudden realization that not all jobs in Canada are created equal.

In what many would call the real world, an economic earthquake has shattered lives, erased nearly 400,000 jobs, and obliterated a lifetime of retirement savings, hopes and dreams. Yet despite that, public sector workers with iron-clad pensions and rock-solid job security have opted to wage a battle for pay hikes and the type of arcane perks that were almost unheard of in the private sector, even when times were good. “Everyone who works within a large apparatus like the government believes the whole world works that way, when in fact it doesn’t,” says Ted Mallett, chief economist with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). “There’s a distinct lack of appreciation for what’s changed outside in the real world.”

Unions dismiss such comments as the rantings of right-wing lobbyists hell-bent on dismantling organized labour. Despite the public outcry over the strikes and polls which show that many citizens deeply oppose them, union leaders insist the outrage is largely manufactured. “Public jealousy is being whipped up,” says Larry Brown, secretary-treasurer of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE). “The idea that there’s a mollycoddled public sector workforce is just not genuine.” Yet any sober analysis of the numbers shows most government workers do enjoy a distinct advantage over their private sector counterparts. Government workers enjoy enviable pay, more luxurious benefits and in almost all cases, astonishingly better pensions.

A string of labour battles in recent months has plastered this growing inequality all over the headlines. The strike by 24,000 city workers in Toronto has brought Hogtown to a standstill. Members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) are seeking a wage increase in the range of three per cent a year, in line with what transit employees and police received last year through arbitration. But public fury has centred mostly on the workers’ sick-day bank. As it stands now, many city workers can sock away their unused paid sick days, up to 18 a year, and cash out up to six months’ worth when they retire. The sick bank has left a $250-million unfunded liability on the city’s books, which is why other regions around Toronto have done away with them. But CUPE is adamant the sick-day bank remain untouched. “The city is putting the knife to us,” Ann Dembinski, president of CUPE Local 79, said recently.

Meanwhile in Windsor, a bitter strike by city workers is already into its third month. Workers voted to strike over the city’s attempts to curb post-retirement benefits for future workers, such as medical benefits. Paul Moist, the national president of CUPE, which represents striking workers in both cities, says the disputes happened because employers tried to take away well-established benefits. “I think the recession is being used as ground cover because workers are vulnerable,” he says.

The list goes on. In Ottawa this past winter, bus drivers rejected a seven per cent pay raise over three years and shut down the capital’s transit system for seven weeks after the city tried to curtail their right to set their own schedules. In Calgary and Edmonton, municipal workers landed contracts in May that offered pay raises of between 3.5 to 4.5 per cent this year and next. And in B.C., striking paramedics, who say other emergency workers earn more than they do, are seeking an amazing seven per cent raise each year for the next three years.

To say all this has left regular workers feeling bitter puts it mildly. “The whole public sector is going to get tarnished” by the strike in Toronto, says Maurice Mazerolle, a labour studies professor at Ryerson University. “There are outrageous things in some public sector contracts and people are wondering, ‘What is this about? Why do you get this?’ ”

Much of what’s driving government sector unions is the deeply ingrained belief that everyone else is way better off. It’s not uncommon to hear the claim that government workers lag the private sector by 10 or even 20 per cent. “The private sector has been demonstrably ahead of the public sector,” says Moist. For instance, he says, the government has had a terrible time hiring people in the trades because workers could make so much more elsewhere. Never mind the fact that at the time, Canada was in the middle of a phenomenal commodity and housing boom, which has since been followed by an equally spectacular bust that’s hitting private sector construction workers particularly hard.

At one time, the unions’ argument was justified. For decades many public sector workers lagged the private sector in pay. Until the 1960s most federal and provincial employees had no collective bargaining rights whatsoever, and they weren’t allowed to go on strike. As recently as 1991, a report by the Pay Research Bureau found that average wages in the federal government trailed other employees by 8.3 per cent.

But there’s been a dramatic shift since then. Stronger and better organized unions have virtually sealed the gap. At the same time, many labour disputes often end when legislators intervene and the matter gets sent to binding arbitration. The problem is, according to Mazerolle, arbitration typically adds between one and 1.5 per cent more to a wage increase than would have been negotiated otherwise. In this way and others, many unionized government employees have largely caught up to other workers.

This became evident last December, when the Canadian Federation of Independent Business published its most recent comparison of public and private sector wages, based on 2006 census data. The lobby group found public sector workers regularly enjoy double-digit premiums over those doing the same job outside of government. For instance, the CFIB looked at 199 federal government occupations where a comparison could be made to the private sector and found government employees earned 17.3 per cent more in salary on average. Workers for the City of Toronto, meanwhile, took home 11.6 per cent more. Unions slam the study, saying it compares “doctors to Wal-Mart greeters,” but the CFIB’s Mallett says comparisons were only made across like jobs, such as labourers and accountants. “These are massive differences in compensation that are not sustainable over the long term if you want the public to support government policy,” he says.

It’s not just pro-business groups that have concluded public sector workers are doing just fine. In 2006, the Treasury Board of Canada released a 600-page analysis of federal employee compensation. It found that any lag federal employees once suffered has long since vanished. Between 1991 to 2003 the average public sector salary jumped by 15.8 per cent, compared to a 7.5 per cent jump among other unionized workers. In all but the most senior executive positions within the government, the report found, public sector workers enjoy equal or superior pay. Job growth in the public sector has been outpacing that of the private sector, too. Last year the gap widened further, with employment rising in the public sector by 4.3 per cent, compared to just 0.9 per cent in the private sector and among the self-employed.

The debate over who fares better is certain to rage on. One reason is the lack of detailed studies into public sector pay among all levels of government. Don’t expect such probing self-analysis any time soon, says Malcolm Hamilton, an actuary with Mercer. Governments would rather not know how the salaries they pay stack up. “You seldom ask for your pay to be compared to others if you think your pay is high, and I suspect many of the treasury departments believe the pay is high and they’d rather not know.” Another reason to keep their heads buried in the sand is the prospect of what such information would unleash. If a thorough study found total compensation in government exceeded that of other workers, there would be intense pressure to cut back on salaries and rich pensions. “There aren’t many votes in that and there may be a lot of strikes,” he says. “So it’s not the kind of thing the government wants to deal with.”

One tactic often used by union leaders to justify their demands is to highlight the outlandish pay packages of corporate executives in the private sector. But while they’re right—CEO pay can be astoundingly high—when you go beyond those privileged few to look at the executives toiling away below them, the public sector is closing in fast. “It’s just my intuitive feeling, but the gap has diminished,” says Craig Alexander, deputy chief economist at TD Bank. “I’m not comparing CEOs to the head of government departments. But at most executive levels the gap between public and private sector executives has diminished over the years.” Alexander has seen this within his own field. Senior government economists occasionally think of leaving the restrictive confines of the public sector for lush private sector salaries, until they sit down to calculate the value of their overall benefits and pensions, he says. In fact, Bay Street economists have a joke about those who have second thoughts about switching. “It’s a test of the quality of the economist, whether they go through the exercise of including the benefits,” says Alexander. The punchline: any economist worth his salt would realize the rich government pension and benefits are too good to leave behind.

The fact is, it’s increasingly rare to find employers in the private sector willing to offer the types of pensions most government workers take for granted. Pensions basically come in two types, defined benefit and defined contribution plans. Defined benefit plans are the Cadillacs of the pension world because they guarantee a fixed payout in retirement. The retirement income from defined contribution plans, on the other hand, depends entirely on how much is contributed and how well the money is invested. Currently, roughly 80 per cent of public sector employees have the gold-plated plan, while barely 23 per cent of private sector workers have any employee-sponsored pension plan at all. Of those that do have a plan, more and more are only offered the defined contribution option.

The dwindling number of private sector workers with pension plans tells just a tiny part of the story. It’s hard to convey just how lucrative a public sector pension is, because the tax and actuarial rules surrounding pensions are mind-numbingly complex. So last November, James Pierlot, a pension lawyer at Towers Perrin, set out to cut through the muddle. In his report Pierlot envisioned two couples: Angie and Brad, who have government jobs, and Courtney and Dave, who work in the private sector. All are the same age, and each person earns $50,000 at retirement. The results were shocking. By the time they retire, Angie and Brad will have amassed retirement savings amounting to $1.2 million between them, compared to just $240,000 for Courtney and Dave.

Why do Angie and Brad come out so far ahead, while Courtney and Dave must make do with retirement scraps? For one thing, most government pension funds are indexed to inflation, ensuring they aren’t eroded by rising consumer prices. In most public sector pensions, retirement payments are also calculated based on an employee’s peak earning years. But tax rules also give defined benefit plan members a staggering advantage over most other workers. In any given year a worker with a defined contribution plan and RRSPs can only put away a total of 18 per cent of his income. Yet the combined contributions of government workers and their employers can, by the end of a 35-year career, easily equal 30 per cent of an employee’s salary. That means a 55-year-old government worker with three decades under his belt and a $60,000 salary would effectively have contribution room of more than $25,000. The same worker in the private sector would be restricted to an RRSP limit of just over $11,000. “I will never argue that public sector workers shouldn’t have good pensions, but how is it fair that these rules have been structured from the beginning to give an opportunity to one class of worker that isn’t available to another class?” Pierlot asks. “It’s appalling and it’s immoral.”

Union leaders like Brown argue that any suggestion that government workers enjoy better pensions at the expense of taxpayers is unfounded because, he says, they pay dearly for their pensions. Put another way, Angie and Brad, for instance, may have to live on less while they’re working because they’re forced to save more. But even so, the standard of living that public sector employees now enjoy in retirement is absolutely lavish compared to other workers, and it’s getting more and more so. The median retirement age for public sector workers, for instance, has fallen steadily since the late 1980s to 58. Not so with private sector workers, who typically tough it out to at least 62. With the obliteration of private retirement savings over the last year, experts say it’s likely many workers will have to toil into their 70s—long after most public sector workers the same age will have settled into their cottages.

This problem will continue to grow, Pierlot says, unless government radically reforms the retirement system. He says the 18 per cent contribution limit should be scrapped, in favour of a lifetime tax-deferred savings limit of, say, $1.5 million, a move that Britain made in 2006. The rules that require pension plans to be sponsored by employers should also be tossed out, so workers can pool their retirement savings in large target benefit plans set up by trade associations, or financial institutions. For many workers it’s already too late, but the changes would help ensure pension inequality doesn’t become entrenched for generations to come.

As for the thorny issue of pay and perks like sick-day banks, Mazerolle says governments and Crown corporations have botched negotiations by springing their concession demands at the last minute. With numerous public sector contracts set to expire over the next couple of years, managers need to make it clear now that many of the perks that unions have cherished for 50 years have become anachronistic. “The way to do this is to put everybody on notice now and say, ‘Look, things have changed,’ ” he says.

Of course, the ideal solution for most workers would be to raise private sector benefits to public sector levels, rather than reduce everyone to the lowest common denominator. Unfortunately, with the economy the way it is, that seems unlikely. The solution may lie in a happy medium instead—but one thing is clear: hiking taxes on already beleaguered private sector workers to pay for increasingly deluxe benefits for the public sector is not an option. With public tempers rising faster than the piles of garbage in Toronto and Windsor, it’s a message that the public sector and their government employers can no longer ignore.


Demanding times

  1. This article misses the point. Although it's true that the unions are striking over ridiculous demands, they have the legal right to do so, and the rest of us have the legal right to make do without them (e.g. by doing the work ourselves).

    What has people really angry is that strikers are blocking/delaying those dumping trash at designated sites. Citizens who dump outside these sites are fined, but no action is taken against those who illegally bar people from accessing public facilities. They're public. They belong to all of us. Strikers have no more right to block access to a dump site than the Tamils had to block access to the Gardiner Expressway…yet the police do nothing. One law for unions, another law for everyone else.

    What are the cowardly police chief and mayor going to say when someone finally gets fed up waiting at a dump site while union members illegally enforce a 15 minute delay per car, and attempts a citizen's arrest? What are they going to say when he gets beaten to a pulp for standing up for his rights? Will they enforce the law then?

    This is what should be done:
    (1) The mayor and the police should be fired immediately and replaced with citizens willing to restore the rule of law.
    (2) The strikers who have impeded others by force should be prosecuted for assault.
    (3) Union leaders complicit in the illegal activity should be prosecuted for organized crime.

    The remaining strikers are welcome to remain on strike until an agreement is reached, but the longer we go without their services, the more likely it is that we'll discover we don't need them.

    • Well said

    • "the rest of us have the legal right to make do without them"

      Also, private sector workers have the right to unionize as well. To whatever extent there is a public sector advantage, this isn't something that private sector workers cannot bring about.

      • Oh that's right, just like those GM workers!… wait a sec…

    • It is the rest of us who should be envious. The strongest period of union activity was during the depression when theoretically the workers should have been counting their jobs as blessings.

      Generally, workers in the private sector have been passive in the extreme; 3% per year is not unjustified, and neither is accruing sick leave. Don't executives from major firms get stock options? No one questions that!

      Take it to the limit Strikers!

      • Sure, go back to school, get a degree, grind the experience, chop thru the office politics, and we'll get you the stock options too. Until then, go stock garbages and do your job!

    • Way to go. I am with you on this one.

    • Gaunilon wrote "This article misses the point. Although it's true that the unions are striking over ridiculous demands, they have the legal right to do so, and the rest of us have the legal right to make do without them (e.g. by doing the work ourselves)."

      Really? Do we have the right to do the work ourselves?
      Do we have the right to make do without them?

      Apparently not! We have to pay them for not doing their jobs, for banking ridiculous sicks days, and for being over paid. We do NOT have any rights – or I wouldn't pay them a penny.

      Some unions need to be legislated out of existence.

  2. "Envy?" What a horrible word to use. That's like suggesting everyone wishes they could join a public sector union so they could be lazy leeches of the taxpayer. We're not "envious" of their pay; we simply believe we have a right to control how our taxes are spent, and clearly spending on the perks of these unions here is absolutely outrageous!

    It's not envy, it's keeping these guys in line. They've strayed way too far from what's acceptable.

    Envy suggests we wish we could all have their perks. Possibly, but we don't "envy" the fact they're doing it on OUR dimes. The word "envy" simply doesn't make sense in this argument for any sane individual.

  3. As for a comment on the issue at hand:

    “The city is putting the knife to us.”

    You're damn right the city is putting the knife to you. If it were up to me, you'd already have been done in by it. By now, Toronto would be functioning properly again with privatized contractors and without the silly, ridiculous, over-the-top entitlement mentality of public sector union workers that is attempting to strangle the Toronto taxpayer into submission.

    Cut the damn leeches off already and Miller too while we're at it!

    [note I don't wish any real harm to these individuals; it is only metaphorical, except for the loss of their jobs… scab workers I would give elevated status to and try to keep their employment somehow]

    • I moved from the private sector to the public and I completely admit that it is extrodinary what we recieve.

      My pay increased by about 15% moving to the private sector, my hours of work went down, my vacation went up, and my pension will be incredible. And I walk around shaking my head listening to co-workers who complain that they have it rough. Rough is working 7 days a week 16 hours a day to finish a project. Rough is a flurry of last minute changes which means your vacation is cancelled. Rough is a $50 dollar per month raise every three to five years.

      It is absolutely obsence.

    • Ryan, are you running next year to change any of this around?

      • I have honestly always thought about running for office some day but considering my education background only goes to college, I doubt I would be either qualified or even viewed as qualified. Don't worry though, there will be other candidates with similar views to my own which Torontonians will have the opportunity to vote in next Novermber.

        • don't let your level of education hold you back. Our current mayor – and many on council – have great education and look where that has gotten us (that goes for provincial too).

  4. "the type of arcane perks that were almost unheard of in the private sector"

    Name a few.

    • Uh, how about those them there 18 sick days?

      • Sick days are "arcane"? I'm glad I don't work in your office because apparently sick people come into work and infect everyone else there.

        • Sick days that are banked and then paid out are not available to those of us who actually work for a living. We are entiteld to sick days, yes – and if you use too many you need to provide a note from a doctor. Allowing people to be paid out sick days is treating those days as vacation days, which I do not think you deserve. I am in a private sector job where if I do not take my vacation days they are not paid out or banked for the next year. Use it or lose it is the norm. Now get off your lazy ass and pick up my garbage.

          • Are you seriously going to try to argue that a garbageman and a pool lifeguard don’t “work for a living”?

          • I'm seriously going to argue that public sector workers, such as garbagemen are being overpaid for their work.

          • How much would it take for you to do their work?

          • The plural of "anecdote" is not data, because I have anecdotes from the high tech industry where that kind of perk is provided in order to attract top talent.

            So perhaps the problem isn't that it's not available to those of you who actually work for a living, it's just not available for those who don't have the smarts to get into the right industries and/or demand that kind of thing as a condition of their employment.

  5. No matter who else does or does not get 3% annually, it's not that far off inflation and in some years it don't match it. Ask yourself who wins when macleans and other media stir up resentment against people who are just about treading water.

    • But this article shows that public sector union members are not "just about treading water". Public sector union members have had their pay increase (in one example listed) about 15% over a time span where private sector pay increased only 7%.

      Fair pay is good, but the implicit idea in that statement is that fair exists on a scale from unfair(low) to unfair(high).

  6. "With public tempers rising faster than the piles of garbage in Toronto and Windsor, it's a message that the public sector and their government employers can no longer ignore."

    Agreed wholeheartedly.

  7. Having 18 bankable sick days also encourages employees to show up to work while sick. The whole point of sick days is so that A) you can rest up and B) you don't infect everyone else.

    Sick days are not vacation days. While obviously some do use sick days as a vacation day, having EIGHTEEN per year is a ridiculous entitlement, and as taxpayers who are paying for you to sit on your ass, we are far more entitled to deny you that privilege.

    Leave it to union workers to officially consider sick days as vacation days, I mean, who else would have thought of that and actually wrote it into their contract? No more.

  8. Actually, you aren't entitled as a taxpayer to set the rates of public employees. it's done through a process called collective bargaining. There's actually been very little in the news about how the sick day arrangement of the other units was arrived at, which is interesting. Depending on what the unions had to give up to get this arrangement when it was put in place, and the benefits of having incentives to not take sick days, it could be an overall sweet deal for management. I find the immediate antipathy of the public, rather than a desire to try to get the big picture, very informative in a "media awareness" kind of way.

  9. Can anyone point out C-9 his error in interpreting the meaning ot 'treading water' as used above?


  10. Well we certainly should be entitled to set the rates. Heck how about we eliminate most public sector jobs so we don't even have to squabble about this? I'm all for that.

    • And I'm not. So there we go.

  11. I'm not necessarily defending the current sick day plan, but I think it has been blown out of proportion as a luxury. You have to work 10 years for the city to even qualify to "bank" sick days, and from there on, you can only bank 50% of your unused days. Temporary and part-time city workers don't get any sick days at all. What's more, a lot of these workers use up their sick days. Child care workers and waste workers tend to be exposed to a lot of injury and illness.

  12. It seems to me that there is a missing dimension in this article, one that deals with general competence. It's all fine and great to argue that job X in the public sector and job X in the private sector should be paid the same, but do we actually know if, on average, both jobs are attracting the same quality of worker? Do top grads from universities work in the private or gov't sectors? Where does the lower half of the graduating class find work? Does one sector work longer hours than others? Does one need to travel or inconvenience one's life moreso than the other? Are additional burdens placed on one but not the other? These are important things to consider in considering this issue, and most are absent. While on paper an accountant might equal an accountant, we all know that, even within different companies, or different accountants at the same firm, there can be huge differences in competence, productivity, and the like.

    An obvious example that one can point to here is that, in the federal public service, accountants may well be paid more than an equivalent accountant in the private sector because the public servant might also need to know how to speak French, and that this is a skill for which the accountant may earn further compensation. The private sector likely doesn't care if their accountant speaks French or not, it's not going to affect communications with the Montreal office much.

    I'm not defending either side here, I just think these issues are points that need to be considered if we're actually going to draw some worthwhile conclusions. Good article otherwise.

    • Thanks for a sensible, balanced and insightful response. I have a strong view on one side of this argument, but it's refreshing to be reminded that we all need to take a step back from an emotional issue and apply a little logic.

  13. The amazing part about all this is that, thanks to yeoman work by conservatives the world over, the response to “unions get paid better than I do” is never “maybe we should form a union” and always “DOWN WITH UNIONS!”

    Sure, I can see employers cheering on a race to the bottom for wages. But you’d think workers would be a wee bit leerier of the idea.

    • Well see, the government should not be viewed as an employer. For example, the GM union and their plight with their boss (GM management), doesn't really raise the ire of anyone, because it's essentially a private matter and will resolve itself (ex. higher prices mean less cars being sold).

      Public unions have one goal in mind whether or not they realize it; to screw the taxpayer. Every cent raise they get more than the private workers is only done because the government has been given the authority to do so. But it's the private workers that actually produce wealth, and when you screw the private workers, you're ultimately screwing everyone.

      If the taxpayers are unwilling to support 18 bankable sick days a year and you WORK FOR THE TAXPAYER, well, then you don't get 18 bankable sick days a year.

      • Well, going through that looking glass leads me to a place where private sector employees are being
        screwed by public sector employees. Not by their employers. Because their employers are too busy
        massaging their stock options.
        Glad all those years of " think tank " persuasion didn't go to waste.

    • Actually, the right to strike & picket, includes an employer's 'secondary' sites. The city set itself up for this, knowing 'flying' pickets can show up anywhere management decides to try to break the strike, by designating dump sites, other than the regular public dump. Excerpt from the OPSEU website, "The Supreme Court of Canada has declared that secondary picketing is no longer illegal under the common law."

    • Sorry to burst your bubble, but many workers want to see the end of unions too. I personally have quit a job because it was going to require me to move in to a union. While it may seem bizarre to many CUPE (and other union) members, I'd just as soon not give my hard-earned dollars to an organization whose mandate is to protect the mediocre or complacent (god knows there are already far too many of those in a union environment) and to limit my own earning potential because I work harder and contribute more.

      At one time workers were legitimately abused. Unions arose as a result, as well they should have. But today, in the 21st century, they have become a drag on the rest of us. I personally look very much forward to their complete demise.

      • I've heard Catherine Swift say the same thing. She gets paid a handsome sum for it.

        In the union "environments" where I've worked the "mediocre and complacent" were
        usually quickly promoted to management level.

        • Yes it's so unfair that the ones with no sense of macroeconomics nor compromise never gets promoted… Oh wait, CUPE probably did that and that's why they're doing such a wonderful job serving the Torontonians

        • Yes it's so unfair that the ones with no sense of macroeconomics nor compromise never gets promoted… Oh wait, CUPE probably did that and that's why they're doing such a wonderful job serving the Torontonians

        • Yes it's so unfair that the ones with no sense of macroeconomics nor compromise never gets promoted… Oh wait, CUPE probably did that and that's why they're doing such a wonderful job serving the Torontonians

  14. Sorry for misunderstanding, but your patronizing tone doesn't really help the level of debate.

    My interpretation was that raises need to outpace inflation otherwise there's no benefit to the worker. I suggest that they are actually receiving those *actual* raises, above and beyond cost of living, on average. I would suggest additionally that nobody in this conversation is treading water, but rather we're all (unionized or not) about 100 feet above the water floating on clouds, and sinking at different rates back to a safer level. (sorry for the painful metaphor)

    I didn't respond to your reference to stirring resentment, and I actually agree that media can unfairly characterize a debate. I don't see that as clearly as you obviously do in this case though.

    • And I'm so glad that the good folks at MacLean's took the time and money to send
      their staff to the " How to Use Loaded Language in Two Easy Lessons " inservice.

      Probably got a good group rate through Kevin Durant , eh ?

      • Do I detect sarcasm from the above poster? Is CUPE paying for his lessons on being sarcastic? Did CUPE get a 'fair' group rate by picketing in front of sarcasm school?

  15. Yeah, exactly. All the people working junky minimum-wage jobs — you know, the kind you run into every day but don't notice they exist — are city taxpayers too, through their rent. They are among those whose taxes are propping up the $30/hour wage of city garbagemen (which is not even an issue in this strike, it's the 20 days of bankable, cumulative, indexed sick leave that a mimimum-wage worker could not even begin to dream of). Public sector unions are literally oppressing the proletariat, and to deply the righteous tone of yesteryear to defend them is quite simply sick.

    • For once Jack, I couldn't agree more. Kudos.
      (i'd +1 the comment, but i'm not doing the intense debate account thing)

    • I don't know why I printed that article out from your link, but it did made a lot more sense in my garbage bin.

  16. It is possible to get screwed by more than one person at the same time.

  17. The only good Union these days is a dead union. Gimme gimme gimme. That a single one of them should ever complain about bad service in the public sector or high taxes while endorsing strike for pay for unused sick days makes me want to upchuck.

    • Dear Peimac . Unions are composed of human beings and you are saying they should be dead. YOU ARE SICK!

    • IF we didn't have unions most of the working class would still be working 6 days a week at 12 hours a day. Don't worry though unions are slowly being killed off and we are slowly working more and more. Capital is doing well and thanks you for your support.

    • A worker in 1909: You can't treat the working man this way. One day, we'll form a union and get the fair and equitable treatment we deserve! Then we'll go too far, and get corrupt and shiftless, and the Japanese will eat us alive!

      Burns's grandfather: The Japanese? Those sandal-wearing goldfish-tenders? Bosh! Flimshaw!
      Mr. Burns: [to Smithers, in the present] If only we'd listened to that boy, instead of walling him up in the abandoned coke oven.

      – quote from The Simpsons

      • Ah. I was wondering where you got your labour relations education.

        • As long as it's not from the detached reality of inside the union, I think I'll do just fine, thank you for the wondering though.

    • Unions had and still do have a place, essentially for protection of the workers under the umbrella of a particular union. But when unions get too big or too powerful, companies will eventually react. One only has to look at the demise of the auto industry and its subsiquent bailouts, the demise of the farm implement industry in Brantford in the early 80's (when maintenance staff sweeping floors were getting $20/hr), and my experience in the grocery industry where my union at the time pressed for wage increases that caused the chain I worked for to restructure, close down stores and reopen them later as non-union stores. I would like to look at companies that are non-union like Toyota or explore profit sharing ideas for possibilities on how to restructure employee/employer relationships. There are companies in the private sector who are actively employing new ways of working co-operatively with their employees, perhaps the public sector should look to these ideas as possibilities too.

  18. Ryan, I guess you forgot about the humongous bailout Ontario, Canada & US governments recently provided to GMC "management" !?That too, is taxpayer funded, using our money to save a very poorly managed corporation. Did we get to vote on these outrageous bailouts for sick private businesses ? Don't hold your breath waiting for them to repay us. if you think somehow private sector workers work harder or are smarter, why don't you pack it in and tell your private employer to take his miserable job and shove it ! Then try getting into the public service and walk a kilometre in their workboots, while they pick up your garbage, one can at a time and carry it back to the truck and dump it yourself ! (as Gaunilon suggested, see above)

    • Sorry it was a bad example I used. I only wanted to highlight the difference between a private company negotiating with a private union, and government negotiating with a public union. The bailout of GM is not how the private sector is supposed to work, so my mistake for using probably the worst possible example I could have used lol

  19. I guess I'm short on caffeine (or maybe overloaded) but this went right over my head. Am I using loaded language? Am I Maclean's staff? I'm definitely not the latter, but I often am the former. Didn't mean to push that hard with my phrasing, but there it is. Just to shake things up further, I'm a regular NDP voter too. *shrug*

    If not aimed at me I apologize for polluting the thread.

  20. Yes. It's part of the excitement and perversion of the thoroughly modern economy.

    • The modern economy of being held hostage by my fellow garbagemen, who claims that they're being screwed because they're not being paid more enough than the rest of private sector.

  21. There's over-the-counter medication for that.

  22. I'll gladly suffer through this inconvenience of their selfish action to avoid having our city perpetually in deficit.
    Stand Firm, Our brave City Councillors.

    • Are you kidding me although I think the union is out of control. Miller and the rest of his idiotic executive council negotiated the same deal with 4 other unions in the past couple of years. The last negotiated settlement was several months ago. This CUPE local is asking for exactly the same thing that the other unions got. Miller and his stupid councillors have been in bed in with the unions for years. They created this and they OWN IT. Toss them all out next election…oh but wait this it Toronto where mediocrity rules.

      • Sure, they made 4 wrongs, what's one more?

  23. The rich cause the recession and the workers get the blame. What else is new?

  24. Also, I think this piece relied way too heavily on the CFIB's "research". Their methodology is utter crap.

  25. The unions are running themselves into the history books, as they run industries into the bankruptcy courts.
    GM to workers: 'We can offer you $53 an hour…with benefits in order to keep the production line open'
    Workers: 'hello no, we won't take that crap'
    GM: ok – we give up -her'es your $75 an hour, but we'll run out of money in 11 months – then no one will have a job.
    non unions: duh.

    • GM workers actually don't get paid $75. That number comes from dividing the total number of current workers by wage, benefit and retirement payout costs. Including benefits and especially the pension pay for retired workers is misleading.

  26. Having looked at the details of the proposed contract in financial terms it is far too generous. The money is in not in the budgets. The city seems to think they can just raise taxes to pay for it with impunity.
    However the majority work in the private sector whose incomes for the most part are way below those in the public sector. Even more, a significant number of city residents are in the retirement bracket. The mayor is clearly incompetent, the unions out to defend their cut and power but a huge reality check has to be administered asap or the city goes bankrupt. It is now getting to the point I pay more in property taxes than I do in income tax….that alone tells you something is very wrong with city hall.

  27. Yes, just look at GM, the managers are obviously lying about GM going bankruptcy when they're really loaded. They're not really going to shutdown any plant, just bluffing is all… oh wait…

  28. As one City employee, I work hard too, so as most of my coworkers, we are not lazy bugs and just drain tax payer money. Comparing my past working experience with private company, public sector is more work, less pay and multi-task…… .

    • If what you say is true that "comparing past working experience with private company, public sector is more work, less pay and multi-task…… .", then clearly you're an exception to the norm.

  29. The sick bank has left a $250-million unfunded liability on the city's books,

    This continues to be Miller's fault. He must have know how much his labor costs were before deciding to build bicycle paths which likely won't be used, purchase streetcars from Thunderbay, and a host of other expenses. it seems to me, he's been empire building without knowing where he was going to find the cash.

  30. One tactic often used by union leaders to justify their demands is to highlight the outlandish pay packages of corporate executives in the private sector.

    This is a favorite trick by Jimmy boy Stanford, the CAW's hired economist.

  31. Put another way, Angie and Brad, for instance, may have to live on less while they're working because they're forced to save more.

    This is pure weapons grade ballonium. Ontario Power Workers are living high off the hog, with plenty of money for toys, recreational devices and expensive vacations. They've got it all.

  32. How the public sector caught up to the private is rediculous. Because of the security that comes with a government job, it's reasonable to expect that the pay be slightly lower. Add to that the fact that they are using tax payers money to pay them. A private company can do whatever they like, it only hurts ther business if they are not efficient. An innefficient government hurts all of us.

    Having said that, I do agree that Paramedics should be paid the same as other emergency workers. What logic is there to argue why they aren't?

    As for people who say garbage collectors are overpaid should ask themselves how much money would that job have to pay for them to quit their jobs and become garbage collectors. For most people I suspect it would be a lot more than what the people are getting now. That being the case, I consider them a bargain. I've never done it, but I would suspect that they go home sore and exhausted every day.

    There are likely many people in the public sector that are overpaid, but I would argue that those are two groups that aren't.

    • Garbagemen in the public sector is being overpaid, that's obvious because private sector is willing to do the same job for a lot less cost to the taxpayers.

      As for people's willingness to become garbagemen, that depends a lot on their eduction level. If you flunked out of highschool and your option is limited, then garbagemen is a darn good job with a darn good pay; If you studied hard and went to college, chances are you've set your expectations higher at least in the long run of your career path and rightfully so.

  33. There is clearly a bias and an ignorance shown in some of the commentaries posted towards civil servants. I believe one must walk a mile in another's shoes to totally understand the conditions in which we work. Not all civil servants are created equal. The same can be said about private sector employees. There are good and bad employees in both. I am a retired civil servant and very fortunate to have benefited from a good pension. I agree that private sector employees do not enjoy the same level of job security or benefits. In fact some private sector companies are quietly making demands of employees that would make public sector employees cringe. I do not support this strike. Many unions are making concessions in order to retain jobs. It is ludicrous to be demanding the payout of unused sick days at this time. Most public and private employees do not enjoy this benefit . Has this union lost their mind? This is the worst economic downturn since the great depression. Do they have any idea how many people have lost their jobs, benefits and savings? I believe Mayor Miller should privatize garbage pick up for City of Toronto.

  34. 1. This article is totally correct when it mentions the PR tactics of our public sector unions. Toronto's striking unions, in particular, keep going back to the executive pay argument and CEO pay whenever someone asks why are they entitled to such absurd benefits and pay packages, as if it's fair to compare the work of CEO's to Garbagemen. Yes, CEO pay is absurd. No disagreement there. That is not justification for that "Ontario Sunshine list" of 100k plus employees to have exploded to now include people like ttc wage collectors and other assorted unionized personnel.

    2. This will eventually be self corrected. This situation is simply untenable, and although only a few people are paying attention now, our public sector unions have to be dreaming if they truly believe that 80% of private sector employees (VOTERS!) are going to happily work into their 70's trying to squirrel away money so they don't have to live on dogfood, AND be willing to pay increased taxes to support the inflation index defined benefit pension plans of their retired "civil servants".

  35. I have known numerous city workers and you guys admit yourself you are working at a country club. I am appalled at what you guys find acceptable. Drinking starts in the trucks on Thurs and Fri. afternoons. The guys working in the parks, only work for a few hours a day. It is all about cheating the system. Sure 50% of you have a strong work ethic, but we could lay off the other 50% and not notice a difference.

  36. Great Article. Thank you. Government Union contracts need to be the #1 issue in the next elections at all levels of government.

    The public is woefully unaware of the richness of the public sector contracts, and the unions have no idea how good they have it.

    There are 2 important facts missing from the article.

    1. Any deficits in the pension funds are 100% the responsibility of the Taxpayer. The employee has absolutely no financial obligations. These plans are beginning to show chronic deficits. In the last provincial budget there is over $10 billion in deficits to be topped up over 4 years. The figure is likely more in the neighborhood of $25 billion as the budget shows only 4 years worth and the legislation provides for 10 years to top up deficits.

    2. Wage increases are in addition to COLA (cost of living).

    I'd love to know what the projected legacy costs are to the taxpayer.

  37. The union advertising has asked their members to contact their councillors and demand that they settle the strike for a fair wage now.

    I suggest that anyone who does not want to see the union walk away with wage/benefit increases email their councillor and express their views.

    • No way, "fair wage" to the union means ridiculous increases and keeping of 18 sick days. The union will starve unless they cave in and bow down to the taxpayer, the ones whom these unions are truly beholden to even though they would never like to admit it.

  38. What vitriol, ignorance and hate. The idea that every one else pays a civil servant's salary is ludicrous.

    We are all taxpayers, including the civil servants. If the city knew that they wanted make changes to the contracts that expired in December of 2008, they could have done it ages ago. Why let workers work in good faith and then suddenly decide to change every thing.

    The recession did not start in June 2009 it began in 2008 and was even more emphasised by the market crash in September 2008 – 9 months before the workers went on strike. As recently as 2009 metro housing workers received a reasonable contract. It is clear to see what has really happened here. Miller and company wanted to shaft the workers in these two locals and are using the tough economic times that existed nine months as the excuse to do so.

    Shame on him for using these workers as the scapegoats for his mismanagement and hokus pokus economics. Shame on you ignoramuses for focusing on hate and not seeing the real picture.

  39. Err, "November" that should be.

  40. They should do something about this. I believe that they must encourage public workers too.

  41. I understand where the unions are coming from but blocking access to public facilities is going over the line. They are "public" for a reason. Just because they are on strike doesn't mean I shouldn't be able to access a dump site. I mean You have no other options because you get fined if you dump anywhere else.