Saturday, July 4, 2009

Still striking

Here are four stories that were published recently on the CUPE strike. I think the last one is the most interesting. I think that someone should come out and say definitively - "There will be no savings after the strike. We'll use whatever hasn't been spent on payroll to get the city back to normal, and then provide a refund. There will be no money afterward."

It's unbelievable that the CUPE strike is still going on around here - it's been three months now, and there's been no resolution. You'd think over all of this time, that there'd be more clarity on the issues and what the next step is for both parties, but ... that doesn't seem to be the case. In fact, there appears to be more confusion than anything.

This was published two days ago:

City hires out-of-town workers
Replacements doing social services work electronically

The city is hiring replacement workers from other municipalities to handle a growing caseload in its social services department, residents and striking workers learned at Monday night's council meeting.

Between 15 and 20 workers have been toiling in a managerial capacity for two or three weeks, but the admission only came after Ward 2 Coun. Ron Jones raised the issue toward the end of Monday's meeting.

Cries of "shame" erupted from the public gallery, which was overflowing with striking city workers and their supporters, when city officials confirmed management from as many as six other municipalities, including Chatham, had been conscripted to handle a growing Ontario Works caseload.

But apparently this is incorrect:

Windsor apologizes to Chatham over replacement worker gaffe

Windsor has sent a written apology to Chatham-Kent over erroneous comments at Monday’s council meeting in which it was alleged Chatham was providing assistance to Windsor’s social services department during the civic strike.

In a July 2 letter to Mayor Randy Hope, Windsor CAO John Skorobohacz lays the blame on Coun. Ron Jones for posing a question — without seeking prior “clarification” from staff — about whether Chatham was processing some of Windsor’s Ontario Works applications. No, responded Ronna Warsh, general manager of social and health services.

The confusion arose when reporters later asked Skorobohacz for details, and he replied that, “Chatham-Kent aside,” six other municipalities were helping Windsor during the strike, which was then reported by media.

And it looks as though it's not just our baseball league that's suffering from all of this:

Strike forces officials to pull plug on baseball tournament

Windsor has lost the 2009 Ontario Men’s Baseball Championships.

Tournament chairman Bernie Soulliere said the Ontario Baseball Association decided Friday to cancel the event because of the prolonged strike by the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the unkempt conditions of the city’s baseball fields.

The CUPE strike is in its 12th week and the tourney is set for the last weekend in July.

“It is virtually impossible to carry on without the two main fields in the Mic Mac park complex,” Soulliere said. “The Mic Mac facility was to be the event headquarters and site of the championship final.”

The event requires four or five ball diamonds for 43 games during its four-day run.

Is there a silver lining?

Windsor's labour cost savings $24 million, but other costs mount

Windsor’s labour cost savings for not having to pay 1,800 striking municipal workers since mid-April have reached approximately $24 million.

Mayor Eddie Francis has promised that the city will reimburse ratepayers any net savings from the strike, now in its 12th week.

But city councillors are cautioning residents not to expect much of a refund. “The city has incurred significant costs — probably much more than what people expect," said Coun. Ken Lewenza Jr. "When people see the level of return, they will be insulted based on the inconvenience they have endured during the strike.”

He said citizens normally pay only 75 cents each time a garbage truck picks up their trash or recyclable materials. “They’ve probably spent more money dropping off their garbage during the strike than they would spend in a whole year,” he said.

Meanwhile, Windsorites have started receiving their 2009 final property tax bills, which were mailed on Monday. With several city services such as daycares, garbage collection and park maintenance now absent for a quarter of a year, some councillors are fielding phone calls from riled residents.

CUPE Local 543 president Jean Fox said she understands the frustration of taxpayers. “They’re paying for services they haven’t been able to use. I think the citizens of Windsor deserve a refund.”

Fox said she won’t hesitate to pay her bill when it arrives. “I’m a citizen of Windsor and I’ll be paying my tax bill. But I won’t be crossing the picket line to do it.” [What picket line? The one between your cheque book and the post office?]

Offsetting any gross wage savings, which the city has calculated at c, are such ongoing costs as non-union and management overtime expenses, security and contracted services. The city is also losing income from parking meters [hell yeah!] and bylaw enforcement, the issuing of licences and the charging of user fees.

Earlier in the strike, the city estimated it would lose about $130,000 per month in revenues from idled bylaw enforcement.

[hmmm? $300,000 per day v. $130,000 per month]

Last week, it was reported that Windsor was paying almost $60,000 per week to a private security firm contracted during the strike.

[hmmm? $300,000 per day v. $60,000 per week]

Because of the extra work assumed by non-union staff during the strike, it won’t be until after the dispute that the actual net savings will be known, said Helga Reidel, the city’s general manager of corporate services.

“Until this is all over we’re not prepared to do those calculations,” she said.

City treasurer Onorio Colucci said some of the people who would be tasked with doing that work are currently double-shifting, doing essential financial services during the regular workday and then tasked with other assignments on overtime.

“We’ve got (city hall) people deployed cleaning washrooms and toilets, people who would normally do analyses,” said Colucci. With continuously fluctuating costs, for example to implement an Environment Ministry order this week to open a third waste dropoff depot, the real savings is a moving target,” he said.

“It’s nowhere near $300,000,” he said.

[This shouldn't be that hard to calculate. How much is payroll normally? How much has it been over the last three months? = savings. And if he's suggesting that "(city hall) people" are performing $300,000 worth of washroom and toilet cleaning per day - then we should consider leaving $300,000 worth of work in the restrooms around city hall for them to clean up, eh?]

What to do with the refund?

Who knows what they're going to do with all that extra money? It seems like a refund will be likely, that's what everyone is saying, but ... I wouldn't be too surprised if there's a vote on what else the money could be used for instead of handing it back to people. I will be surprised if that money is ever handed back to tax payers.

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