Do you like your weekends? Thank a union

Post by Eric Mang in ,

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Mang thinks all workers should thank the unions for the progess made in worker rights

I am not a shill for unions. I’ve never worked for one. In fact, when I was in politics, I was an aide in the Harris and Campbell governments. I’ve had, for those who occasionally read my blog postings, a tremendous change of heart and mind.

I like unions. I like what they represent. I like that they fight for fair wages, that they stand up for workers, that they fight exploitation. And I think it a shame that many Canadians have such a poor understanding of unions; that their opinions have been manipulated by nearly 30 years of constant attack on unions by those who have an unwavering faith in free markets, have advocated for deep cuts to regulations, and who see workers as expendable and/or subservient.

The Toronto Star has two excellent columns in today’s paper that I think worth citing in their entirety. The first compares the private sector garbage pick-up in Etobicoke to the public service covering the rest of Toronto and the second is a compassionate op-ed (compassion often goes missing from this “dialogue”). It’s worth reading both of these pieces, even if you vehemently disagree with the strike.

For garbage collectors, wages and benefits vary a lot

Jun 24, 2009 04:30 AM


There are two kinds of residential garbage collectors in the city: municipal employees walking the picket line in the blazing summer sun and the ones who are working today.

The latter are employed by Turtle Island Recycling, the company the City of Toronto pays more than $8.5 million a year to pick up waste in Etobicoke, where collection has been contracted out since before amalgamation.

Turtle Island management did not want to talk to the Star, but two waste collectors paused briefly to talk about their pay and benefits yesterday.

Their workdays are longer than those of city garbage collectors, their wages lower and their sick pay nonexistent. Never mind bankable sick days.

"I'd rather work for the city," said one, declining to give his name.

He fell off his roof while cleaning an eavestrough two weeks ago and sprained his wrist, which is now wrapped in a tensor bandage. But he did not take any time off.

"Don't come to work, don't get paid," he shrugged.

While his truck hummed noisily, the second driver pointed out another difference between him and a city worker.

"Two-and-half years, haven't had a raise," he said.


Pay: Varies depending on the kind of truck you drive and bonuses, workers say. One worker makes $23 an hour, while another said his base wage was $18 an hour, but that he typically makes around $21 with bi-weekly bonuses. Bonuses are based on how much weight he lugs and whether he gets to work on time.

Hours: Four-day week. One worker says he usually works 12-hour days.

Benefits: Include health care, dental and eye care.

Sick days: Unpaid. There are no bankable sick days.

Overtime: According to one worker, overtime pay does not begin until after 50 hours.


Pay: $25.11 an hour for drivers or loaders of solid waste, up 2.75 to 3.25 per cent annually since 2005.

Hours: Four 10-hour days a week.

Benefits: Extended health includes dental care, life insurance, eye care and physiotherapy.

Sick days: 18 sick days each year; unused days can be banked and cashed in on retirement, subject to certain limits.

Overtime: Time-and-a-half in excess of regularly scheduled workdays or weeks.

Source: CUPE, City of Toronto spokespeople, their last collective agreement.

City workers are our neighbours and friends

Jun 24, 2009 04:30 AM


These are the glory days for the union bashers in our midst; there is nothing like the smell of rotting garbage and the sight of padlocks on the doors of the daycare centres to heighten the anti-labour frenzy.

Let's try to relax.

The people on strike are our neighbours. They are not stupid and they are not evil. They are us.

And if a strike is a brutal tool, it is always a weapon of last resort, and a sign that negotiations have been flawed.

A bargaining table has two sides, kids.

It is also useful to remember that you and I are the employers here. The people we hire to pick up our trash and tie the shoelaces of our toddlers are valuable members of this community. We need them more than ever now, if times are so tough.

Take a deep breath and consider this:

We are trying to claw back their benefits. Regardless of what you think of those benefits, we clearly have not offered anything of equal value in return. Had we made a graceful and elegant offer, there would be no strike.

We are also offering them a smaller wage increase than we gave the cops and firefighters and some other workers. Why should the men and women now on strike bear the brunt?

They, too, have bills and mortgages and kids in school, and no one is offering them a break on their credit-card interest just because times are tough.

The notion that we can offer them a lesser wage increase than the one we gave the cops is not just vaguely unethical, it is inflammatory.

Alas, it seems some people think that when times are tough, we have a duty to stand on the necks of the weakest.

But if this recession is so severe, perhaps we should now be trying to get the cops and firefighters to open up their agreements so we can snatch a little money back from them.

I am frankly not happy about the growing pile of orange peels in my compost bins, but it is my duty to figure out how to cope.

I am also certain that the guys who normally haul my trash away are not happy that they had to walk off the job to make a point.

Here, it is useful to remember that strikers also have kids in daycare, just as they also have mounds of coffee grounds and piles of old newspapers building up at home. At least, I hope they are still buying papers.

But that's another story.

Back to the bigger picture for a moment: Some people think that the City of Toronto should not have unionized workers. Other people, even more regressive, think that city workers should not have the right to strike. Still others – and these are the real troglodytes – think that because times seem to be tough, all city workers simply ought to tug their forelocks and be thankful that they have jobs.

Those people are the real enemy. They confuse apple peels with orange peels. If it weren't for unions, we'd all be making two bits an hour.

Having said that, I do have a bit of cautionary advice for striking workers: keep a civil tongue, and watch your language when you Twitter.

Oh, and when we do manage to haul our trash to one of those miserably far-flung dumping stations, make it easy for us, maybe even give us a hand. Because we are your neighbours.

You want us on your side. 


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