Toronto municipal workers on strike

July 16, 2009

THE TRASH is piling up in Toronto as sanitation workers, members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), continue their strike, 25 days old as of July 15.

Toronto Mayor David Miller has not given CUPE employees the 3 percent wage increase that other unionized employees have received. Toronto's CUPE, which is 24,000 members strong, includes workers in child care, public health, emergency services, garbage and recycling, social services, planning, permits, inspections, water and sewage treatment, parks and recreation, and animal services.

Other city employees, such as police, fire, housing, parking authority and water employees, have received their 3 percent wage increases, but they are showing solidarity with CUPE members. The Toronto Police Association and the Society of Energy Professionals have written letters of solidarity to CUPE. The United Steelworkers (USW) organized a barbecue for the CUPE picketers. USW Local 8412 President Michael Seaward explained, "You have to fight for anything in this country."

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who received a 2.4 percent wage increase, told the Toronto Star, "The union needs a reality check. They have to think long and hard about what they're asking for in tough economic times--and who they're asking to pay for it."

Blaming the employees in "tough economic times" has been a strategy used by employers since the recession began. Perhaps Minnan-Wong's excuse can be added to the piles of uncollected trash in Toronto's alleyways.

Picket captain and light-duty cleaner Phil McCormick explained that the city's part-time, non-union employees are given more hours to compensate for the loss of full-time union members. This strategy is an attempt to remove the teeth from workers' most powerful weapon, the strike.

The city has offered concessions of 1 percent in each of the next two years, 2 percent the following year, and 3 percent the year after that. This is far different from the 3 percent wage concession originally agreed upon. If CUPE agrees, what concessions lie in the future?

Generally speaking, politicians tell workers they must "tighten their belts," even as they continue to provide bailouts to the people who caused the recession in the first place. The best way to be heard when employers and politicians try to renege is to organize and fight.
Marc LaFleche, Columbia, S.C.

For information about CUPE and what you can do to help, visit, the CUPE Web site.

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