Will civic strike become "Dave's Dispute" in Toronto?

Post by Daniel Fontaine in


Not as catchy as "Sam's Strike" but what the heck

It looks like the City of Toronto may soon be behind picket lines as discussions between management and the unions is heating up. There is already talk from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) about how a labour disruption will impact garbage pickup, road work and park maintenance.

As most people know, Mayor David Miller is a big supporter of CUPE and vice versa. It will be interesting to see how Miller will handle the CUPE machine as it comes into town asking for higher wages and improved working conditions in the midst of the worst recession southern Ontario has seen in a decades.

I can't help but thinking what would happen if CUPE decided to do to a left-wing mayor, what they did to a "right-wing" mayor in Vancouver. In the summer of 2007, CUPE's leadership decided to go on strike and head out on a very lengthy labour dispute. CUPE successfully named it "Sam's Strike" in honour of his former Worship Sam Sullivan. The CUPE local in Vancouver was the only one in Metro Vancouver that decided to go on strike. In the end, they ended up with the same collective agreement as all the other locals in the region.

Somehow I doubt CUPE's strike placards, which are being printed up as we speak, are going to read "Dave's Dispute". However, if Torontonians want to end the strike quickly, perhaps it's a term they may want to begin using themselves? Just look at how successful CUPE's "Sam's Strike" campaign was at taking down the former mayor.

There are about 6000 24,000 employees that could walk off the job in "Dave's Dispute" on June 22nd. The union claims the main issues relate to seniority and sick leave. It's hard to fathom how the current economic situation in Toronto will result in them getting a lot of sympathy from local property taxpayers. That is, unless they can replicate their masterful public relations strategy of having the mayor wear the dispute as they did in Vancouver. However in 2007, Vancouver's local economy was overheating, not in free fall.

The last strike to hit Toronto was in 2002 when 10 councillors, including David Miller, decided they didn't want to be scabs and refused to cross the union's picket line. There is no word yet whether Mayor, not councillor, David Miller would be prepared repeat his actions.

Here is what Mark Ferguson, CUPE local 416 president, told the National Post:

We hoped the city would get serious about achieving a deal with us and they would take concessions off the table. So far that has not happened.

In response, the city issued this statement:

In the event of a labour disruption, the City of Toronto will implement a contingency plan to ensure that critical services continue. The plan will be widely communicated immediately before any labour disruption. The TTC, Police and Fire Services and the City's Long Term Care Homes & Services (Homes for the Aged) and Toronto Community Housing properties would not be affected. In addition, the City and unions have agreements for maintaining essential Emergency Medical Services (Ambulance).

You can expect that a civic strike in Toronto will get national media attention. I somehow have a feeling that Toronto's labour friendly mayor is not about to let this become "Dave's Dispute" anytime soon.


The CUPE local in Vancouver was the only one in Metro Vancouver that decided to go on strike.

They and Delta were also the only ones that had a "final offer" imposed on them at the outset - as you well know. And unlike Delta, the employer never subsequently bargained in good faith until, you know, the mediator arrived. Also as you well know, but will never admit.

In the end, they ended up with the same collective agreement as all the other locals in the region.

It's funny how Sam never offered that at the outset, a deal which would have been accepted and would have removed one of the major reasons for Mr. Sullivan's downfall. But why let facts get in the way of a good Shakespearean tragedy.

I think if you get your timelines right, Sparty, you'll recall that the same offer was made the 2nd week of August, and finally accepted the second week of October. The additional two months CUPE spent on the lines was for pure political dramatics, and to wound the NPA enough to get their guys (Vision) in office.

Mission accomplished, I guess you could say. It's too bad that the membership had to play as pawns for CUPE's big plan.

Which August offer was that, Mike? I'm sure you must have a cite at the ready...


I can only wonder why you forgot to mention that CUPE actually rejected the independent mediator's report...which was basically to accept the same collective agreement that every other CUPE employee settled for in the region. How can you explain that one away?

I'm not trying to "explain that one away" - though I note the fact an independent mediator had to be brought in to actually table an offer similar to that of other municipalities undermining the point above by your colleague.

There was a specific claim made: it was the union's choice to go on strike in July 2007. Yet funnily enough, you aren't disputing the fact of the "final offer" (and it's far less generous terms than those of the agreement eventually reached) which actually triggered it.

The long and the short of it is you guys tried to break the union in an era when everyone and their cat was claiming unprecedented prosperity. Politically, it was a strategic error - and you paid the price. CUPE simply used the ammunition management provided.

What was really happening is this. Both sides were trying to get the best deal possible. What is "fair" in the eyes of both sides clearly differed. No one was trying to crush the other side, they were simply trying to get the very best deal possible for those they represent. The phrase "final offer" was just another bargaining tactic, just like using the term "Sam's Strike."

Governments have public sector salaries as their biggest cost. To offer more services without increasing taxes, they have to keep pay increases in line. When Richmond broke ranks and offered 17.5% there was nothing any other municipality could do to negotiate anything less.

What unions do during a labour dispute is communicate by all means possible that they are getting screwed by the man. CUPE convinced the public for some weeks that they were getting screwed. A closer look at these collective agreements shows nothing could be further from the truth. Not only are the wages competitive with the private sector, the benefits around vacation & earned days off are considered very generous in comparison to private business.

So you can carry around the myth that management were trying to jack the workers, but the reality is much different. CUPE were conducting a political protest - full stop. The final settlement CUPE accepted came not because it was any better in October than in August, it was because the public was beginning to backlash against them.

If the union had any better public support they would have kept workers out even longer to create maximum political pain. The prize was always regime change in Vancouver City Hall. Again, mission accomplished.

To suggest that this was about management trying to screw the workers is revisionist history at best. You won City Hall, you control all the levers of spending there now. You've got a majority on council, and a City Manager who supports you and you've managed to change most of the old guard in management. Now the City is pulling out of Metro Vancouver's Labour Relations team.

Don't try to kid anyone that the objective was anything but power.

6,000 may go on strike??!!!, try 24,000! CUPE 416 AND CUPE 79 (Inside Workers)

Thanks for your note. The post has now been amended to reflect the new number for both inside and outside workers. Much appreciated.

Here is a take from someone who has endured five strikes in my lifetime at the City. It sounds like everyone is still hurting about the last strike. I know I am still am. The fact of the matter is Sam's boys either got the wrong advice or were just too rigid in their thinking to realize that the public did not have an appetite to battle the union.
Everyone has taken it personally and you bloggers are still smarting from it.
When CUPE got the final offer, you guys knew by the polls you were in trouble and rolled the dice. It did not work.
If you had offered the same as the other Municipalities, Sam would still be in power and you guys would still have your nice gigs.
Do not kid us that you are still mad about losing your grip on power.

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