The nonsense surrounding sick days

Post by Eric Mang in ,

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The issue of sick days was a real sticking point in the recent Toronto civic strike

Today, Local 416, the outdoor workers, ratify their agreement. Local 79 has already voted in support of its agreement and is ready to return to work once 416 ratifies.

But tomorrow, City Councillors could sink the agreements by voting in the majority against them. If this happens, pickets return and new agreements need to be negotiated.

Why, one asks, would some City Councillors entertain a “nay” vote when we are on the cusp of normalcy returning to Toronto?

They are perturbed that Miller didn’t try to decimate the unions; they are portraying the new agreements as a Pyrrhic victory for the city.

Wage increases for Locals 79 and 416 are relatively low – 1.75% in the first year, 2% in the second year, and 2.25% in the third year – when compared to increases for councillors (2.4%) and police with 9.9% over three years (2008-2010).

Although right-leaning Councillors have railed against the pay increases, the one thing that makes them get all wild-eyed crazy is bankable sick days.

Some perspective and truth is needed.

First, part-time workers don’t get the benefit. Out of the 24,000 inside workers (Local 79), 10,000 part-timers, which include public health nurses and child care staff, are not eligible for sick days.

Second, the $260 million sick leave liability figure bandied about does not apply only to those unions who were on strike. According to the city, that liability is the total based on management/non-union employees, firefighters and Locals 79 and 416. Both CUPE locals on strike account for about $140 million in sick leave liability.

Third, under the bankable sick day plan, one has to work for the city for 10 years before qualifying for a payout of the unused balance of sick days. About 10,000 unionized staff, locals 79 and 416 combined, have more than 10 years service. Therefore, this benefit is not available to all 30,000 CUPE workers on strike. Again, about 10,000 don’t get sick days and only 10,000 actually qualify for this benefit.

Fourth, let’s look at what other unionized workers receive in Toronto in terms of sick days: Toronto Police and Toronto Firefighters get 18 days per year, also bankable.

While Miller proudly asserted that bankable sick days had been eliminated for city workers, he retreated when it was pointed out that current workers keep their bankable sick day plan, while new employees will not be offered this benefit. In other words, the plan is being phased out and not eliminated.

City Councillors who are thinking of opposing the Local 79 and 416 agreements better think of some clever and opaque language to make the rest of us not think of them as absolute cretins.

A final point regarding wages: following the release of the wage details, groups with certain, ahem, ideological leanings, mused aloud at pushing for private and public sector wage parity. That is, an administrative assistant in the public sector should be paid the same as his counterpart in the private sector. The reasoning behind this argument is the methodologically suspicious claim that public sector workers are paid vastly more than those in similar positions in the private sector. What’s fascinating to me is that the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (one of the more vocal groups demanding so-called wage parity), doesn’t say much about aligning pay for senior managers, vice-presidents and presidents/CEOs in the private sector with comparable positions in the public sector.

In 1995, Canada’s top CEOs earned 85 times more than the average worker. By 2007, that gap widened to 398 times more than average Joe Salaryman. Between 1998 and 2007, average top CEO compensation rocketed off to a stratospheric 147% average increase; think of Scrooge McDuck surrounded by his teetering piles of gold coins. The rest of us working stiffs saw a 3% decline (yes, decline) over the same period, when adjusted for inflation.

I am certain that if wages for any worker in the public sector, never mind public servants with jobs comparable to top CEOs (think of Deputy Ministers or Ministers), accelerated into such fantastical realms in a short nine years, the CFIB would be on the floor, flailing, eyes rolled back in its head, foaming at the mouth.

Fair is fair: if CFIB et al want public sector workers to be paid the same as private sector workers, let’s apply that principle to all in the public sector. And when Ms. Deputy Minister hauls in $2.3 million, just remember that this is the “fairness” for which you advocate.

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