Does privatized garbage pickup up really mean fewer strikes and less generous labour agreements?
Now that Windsor has settled its CUPE strike, the attention given to Toronto's strike continues to grow. The Windsor strike lasted about 15 weeks and they finally came to an agreement last week providing for a 6% pay increase over four years. Mayor Miller in Toronto is currently offering 7% over the same timeframe. By way of comparison, CUPE was able to get 17.5% for its members in Metro Vancouver for a contract that lasted a little over four years.
The strike in Toronto is well into its second month and it doesn't look like it's going to end anytime soon. As I posted earlier, everyone is falling into a fairly predictable pattern right about now. The union has the mayor right where they want him. He's wounded, highly involved in the day-to-day disucssions of the negotiating process and wants to settle this as soon as possible in order to survive politically.
As for the mayor, he thinks he has the union right where he wants them. Workers are increasingly crossing the picket lines, morale on the front line is low, and people are about to starting to make mortgage and rent payments using their limited strike pay.
What's becoming more evident to me as the Toronto strike drags on is the importance of having the garbage guys out on strike at the same time as the inside workers. If garbage pickup were privatized, there would be almost no incentive on the part of the City of Toronto to settle this strike. One need only take a cursory review of some of the media coverage to understand what I mean.
Almost every media outlet is focusing on the impact rotting garbage is having on everything from tourism to rat infestations. Garbage has become the most visible part of this strike (perhaps with the exception of uncut lawns) and the union clearly undertstands the importance of this development.
Here's an excerpt from the Hamilton Spectator:
In Toronto, with the stench of rotting garbage wafting down city streets and temporary dump sites bursting with bulging bags, trash is all people talk about.
Even Toronto’s Mayor David Miller has made frequent public statements saying the city isn’t all that stinky and tourists shouldn’t stay away.
Now just imagine for a moment that garbage continued to get picked up during the civic strike. What would the media be focusing on? Would they talk about how Toronto has been impacted by the accounts receivable clerk not showing up for work? Or how about how none of the by-law enforcement officers are putting tickets on illegally parked cars? I rather doubt it.
By having the garbage guys out with the rest of the adminstrative staff, if helps to provide a fantastic bargaining chip for CUPE. It helps to ensure that when all is said and done, the final deal will likely be a little sweeter than it might have been with privatized garbage pickup. Those "sweeteners" are inevitably paid for by city taxpayers who are left paying the bills long after all the negotiators have packed up their bags and moved on to the next city.
"Trash is all people talk about," says the Spectator. Clearly this plays to the union's advantage and against the Mayor and council's bargaining position. However, in the remaining days of what will likely be his final term of office, Mayor Miller will stubbornly refuse to look at the issue of private garbage collection. Even if he knows it might mean less labour strife in the future.
When I talk about how privatized garbage pickup can save money for cities, I never really focus on the straight comparison of costs. Rather, what I'm referring to is the additional cost of having to settle a collective agreement with ALL inside and outside CUPE workers due to the pressure the employer inevitably faces due to a "garbage crisis." If you remove the pressure cities face due to the "garbage crisis", you will find that not only are there fewer labour disputes, but generous settlements which taxpayers are unable to pay for are also curtailed.