Arbitratror would likely cost Toronto millions to end strike

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

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Mayor David Miller
Will Toronto's Mayor Miller cave and send "Dave's Dispute" to arbitration?

Well, we're at the end of the first week in the Toronto civic strike. As predicted here earlier, it's all started to unfold as it should. The news media is plastered with kids losing soccer camps or having no daycare. The unions are holding daily news conferences trying to further suck the politicians into the negotiations and Torontonians are fuming mad. There are also now calls for Mayor Miller to resign and his political opponents are sniffing blood. Ahhh, the world is as it should be.

A little known fact about some disputes is the early going doesn't actually cost the union a penny. For example, if memory serves me correctly, during the 2007 labour dispute in Vancouver, most of the striking members were not actually eligible for strike pay until about a week or so after it began. It's very similar to the unpaid waiting period that EI claimants must endure as they wait for their benefits to kick in.

It CUPE follows the same rules across the country, strikers won't be eligible for strike pay until sometime this week. That's why the union brass are never too displeased if a strike ends quickly because it means they can demonstrate their relevance while never having to fork over penny from the strike fund. Management knows that if the strike drags on, the costs to the union begin to escalate rather quickly and pressure on them to settle will mount. It's about that time when union folk start talking about an arbitrator.

Arbitrators are great in the sense they are removed from the day-to-day negotiations and can look at the dispute with a fresh set of eyes. However, management are always extremely reluctant to hand over their negotiations to someone who by their very nature will "cut the baby in half" and provide the unions a few goodies to end the dispute.

These "goodies" can end up costing local taxpayers millions over the life of the collective agreement. Admittedly, unions are also somewhat leery, but after lengthy disputes an arbitrator can help to put items on the table that management simply wouldn't put there otherwise.

For the unions looking to cut their losses in a lengthy dispute, an arbitrated settlement becomes a godsend. They know that after a lengthy strike management are not likely to back off from their demands, hence, there is little to be gained from further negotiations.

The arbitrator, who doesn't have to stay behind and find the tax dollars to pay for the collective agreement may seem like a simple solution, but that's not always the case. That's why Torontonians shouldn't expect the City to support the concept of either a mediator or arbitrator for some weeks to come. Even though the union will likely position this as the City "not willing to do everything possible to end this strike".

In my next Toronto related strike post, I'll be writing about how this strike could affect the next civic election. Will Mayor Miller come out of this as a hero? Will it be the straw that broke the camel's back? Will this become known as "Dave's Dispute"? Tune back here later this week for our next installment in Toronto's civic dispute.

PS If you're a City of Toronto or City of Windsor worker and would like to tell us your story of life behind the picket lines, simply send us your thoughts at citycaucus@gmail.com. Please ensure your post is no more than 500 words. If you wish to remain anonymous, please let us know in advance.

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