The bulletin handed city outside workers ahead of what CUPE Local 416 president Mark Ferguson described as an "historic" ratification vote last night, reads in large letters at the top: WE BEAT THEM BACK!
And the union representing the city's 6,000 outside workers did, for the most part, keep the dogs of war loosed by Rob Ford against city workers at bay during this round of bargaining. The lockout threatened by the mayor to bust the union never materialized.
But the four-year deal ratified by a significant majority of the union's membership at the OFL building Monday night (some 3,400 ballots were cast), couldn't be achieved without the union agreeing to a number of concessions. The biggie among them: on protections against job losses due to contracting out. Those protections will now be extended to workers with at least 15 years seniority, from the current 10.
Employee rights to "bump" more junior employees will remain, but only in one of four city quadrants. Also, workers who may be redeployed will continue to earn their existing wages, but for shorter periods - 24 months (from 30), and 36 months (from 60) for workers within five years of retirement.
As for gains for the union, the agreement still protects jobs for the vast majority of workers. There is also a 6 per cent wage increase over the four year life of the contract, a surprise turn given the union's offer of a three year wage freeze.
The biggest win for the union: managing to keep the city from major rollbacks on employee health benefits, as well as overtime and sick pay benefits.
Ferguson freely admitted in a brief post-vote press conference that not everyone was happy with the deal. Paramedics in particular, some of whom milled around the lobby of the OFL building to express their dissatisfaction to TV cameras, will be made an essential service.
On that front, the union's thinking was that paramedics wanted to be represented by their own bargaining unit anyway (they already have an informal association). Ferguson, a former paramedic, offered that concession was part of the price of finding a compromise.
For the union's bargaining committee, it has been a trying three weeks.
The deal ratified yesterday was admittedly the best that could be achieved under what were very difficult, some might say impossible, circumstances.
The alternatives for the union were another strike, or having terms and conditions of work imposed upon them by the city. For Ferguson and Local 416, the stakes had never been higher.
Faced with a belligerent mayor and the prospect of a lockout of city workers, not to mention the stink of the 2009 strike smelling up public opinion, there was little room to maneuver.
And so the decision was made by the union to make a grand gesture. A proposal to offer the city a three-year wage freeze was hatched. That ended up being taken off the table, the city opting to give the union modest wage increases in return for changes to the seniority language instead.
But the offer of a wage freeze had the desired political effect, setting the tone in the union's favour in the court of public opinion, and forcing a Ford administration content on creating a crisis, to the bargaining table.
Some redemption for Ferguson who, for all the loathing he inspired among the right, burned some bridges with lefties on council, too, for his handling of the 2009 contract talks that was marked by a bitter month-long strike - and arguably led to David Miller's undoing. Ferguson has some regrets about that.
This contract has been widely viewed as a big win for the mayor. The terms will in fact stall the Ford administration's privatization plans for garbage pick-up east of Yonge Street, if not stop them for the foreseeable future.
That doesn't mean Ford won't try to outsource garbage pickup, but it'll be a decidedly different political dynamic the mayor faces on council than the one he did when a nine-year, quarter-billion-dollar contract to privatize pick up west of Yonge to the Humber River was approved by council with little information - after some questionable procedural dipsy-doodling - a few months back.
Ferguson can take some consolation in the fact the public animosity left hanging over outside workers from the 2009 strike has largely dissipated. Polling done by both CUPE and the city during contract talks confirms that. There are more voices now willing to defend city workers and the services they provide.