A few years back, a very loud Mel Lastman popped off about how everything then premier Mike Harris touched turned to crap. Health care, education, amalgamation. Crap, crap, crap.The mayor's tirade must have had an impact on the premier. Next thing you knew, Harris called it quits in provincial politics and left his old buddy Ernie Eves the key to the office mini-bar.
But in the process, the departing Common Sense Revolutionary managed to infect Lastman with the virus that turns all you touch to crap. The mayor's recent forays into the world of labour relations confirm that he has an advanced case of the disease.
No, it has not gone unnoticed at City Hall that while Pit Bull Mel and Case Ootes, the Deputy Dawg, have managed to provoke a strike by almost 25,000 municipal workers, other city employees whose union reps negotiated with managers not directly influenced by the mayor's office are still on the job with new contracts in their hands.
Those agreements include more than just the same (or better) money than Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) locals 79 and 416 agreed to before their members walked off the job. They also provide the kind of job security Lastman and Ootes have refused to give the striking inside and outside workers. So garbage piles up in the parks, and swimming pools stay empty.
To their good fortune, the Amalgamated Transit Workers Union local 113 didn't have to negotiate with a city bargaining team taking orders from the office overlooking Nathan Phillips Square. Instead, the Toronto Transit Commission had its experienced labour relations staff sit down with the transit workers' agents, and a deal acceptable to both sides was worked out.
Likewise, the Toronto Police Association took chairs across the table from representatives of the Toronto Police Services Board. And the cops walked away with a three-year pact that provides wage increases of more than 11 per cent and job guarantees the likes of which the CUPE types wouldn't dare to dream.
Toronto Zoo workers and city library staff were also able to reach agreements with municipal management without being forced to walk off the job. But here again, Lastman was not involved in the negotiations. A zoo board and a library board took responsibility for reaching accords with the unions representing those employees.
Some folks with analytical tendencies will suggest that all the city must do to attain a real and lasting labour peace is get the mayor out of the picture. And they're right. Except Lastman's goal is not labour peace. It's workplace chaos. Of that we can now be sure.
The main reason those management boards and commissions were able to reach suitable compromises with their employees is that the mayor and his backers are not targeting those workers. It's not their public service jobs that are wanted for contracting out to the private sector, at least not during this round of so-called negotiations. The mayor's big fight is with local 416, the 6,800-strong outside workers union that counts fewer than 1,000 city garbage collectors among its members.
The trash haulers weren't even mentioned when city council gave the nod to its strike-inspiring Alternative Services Delivery policy last month. Only janitorial services, forestry work and purchasing duties in the finance department were red-circled for future contracting out. Those positions are predominantly inside jobs that belong to members of local 79, and their future elimination was not expected to create much of a ruckus.
But the unions didn't need the help of a conspiracy theorist to understand that the first ASD initiative was just the thin edge of a wedge meant to be hammered in deeper and deeper at every opportunity. The lobbyists who descended on City Hall to "monitor" the discussions from the very beginning made that obvious. They clearly expect a pot of gold to be waiting for them at the end of the ASD rainbow. And the biggest nuggets will have "waste management" stamped on them.
"That's where the money is to be made in privatization," says councillor Michael Walker. And, he insists, Lastman and his backers are intent on setting things up so the dough can be scooped up with the least amount of effort.
"These guys have corporate friends who are just salivating at the opportunities in a city of this size," he said. "Everything's got a $100-million figure attached to it."
Walker maintains it doesn't take much imagination to conjure up pictures of private trains hauling Toronto trash to up to the Adams Mine if Lastman somehow manages to break the unions and put waste management up for grabs.
It's very hard to argue with the politician who wants council to censure Lastman because he continues to carry out his duties "in a frequently repressive, reactive and inconsistent manner that has brought harm to the reputation of city council, undermined its opportunities and invited public contempt and ridicule."
The mayor has certainly done all of that, and worse, over the past five years. But never before have the motives for his behaviour been so obvious.
You'd think a politician in the twilight years of a long career would want to create a legacy of at least some positive accomplishments. But it seems Lastman wants to go out shouting hysterical ultimatums at a union he wants to destroy in order to sell public service jobs to the highest bidder.
It's crap. And it's no less foul than the pile the mayor once accused Mike Harris of dumping.