Dozy or doctrinaire pols, bureaucrats let unions hurt us

frankI really hate to have to tell this story, because although I’ve never been a union member, I have in my lifetime worked for a few rotten, abusive employers (including for a time the late unlamented Frank Roberts, founder of Obus Forme, who openly sexually harassed his female employees and was subsequently shot to death in Toronto in a mob-style hit Aug. 13, 1998 after cavorting with a young married mother).

Unions can protect workers against such scum. Instead, however, of such a tale of employer abuse, I must tell a true story about how politicians and bureaucrats let the civic unions rip you off in Toronto and make little princes and princesses of their members.

This is about a person we’ll call Pat, who worked for a city-hall department that probably shouldn’t even exist. It serves as a communications/personnel resource for various city operations that could contract the work out more easily, cheaply and better. There are a number of mini-businesses like that in the city’s portfolio of unnecessary complexities.

Pat got a 1-year assignment to act as a marketing manager for a city-run operation that serves a number of independent businesses and their consumers. We’ll call it The Operation. Because it is run by the city, The Operation had wanted for years to get the city to fund a marketing expert or company to help its clients. It could only hire an existing and ranking union member from the city roster. Pat’s annual pay was around $75,000 plus the usual bonanza of city benefits.

Having never been a marketing executive before, but having been a good union member and an obedient bureaucrat skilled in process and verbal self defence, Pat came in with a blank mental slate and a pledge to first watch and learn before acting. That would occupy a few months while Pat boned up on The Operation’s marketing and information needs.

Before the learning period was over, the city union went on strike and loyal unionist Pat is, Pat also went on strike. But the business clients of The Operation weren’t on strike and they needed the advertising designs and placements that Pat had taken over arranging while still studying The Operation’s marketing needs. “I don’t think it’s fitting for them to be advertising when the city is on strike,” Pat announced, as if describing the protocols around a funeral instead of business requisites for The Operation’s clients whom Pat served.

Accustomed as they were to greed and stupidity coming from city hall, the business clients of The Operation paid their fees to the city and kept on serving their own customers. They suffered in more or less silence as they undertook to perform the maintenance and service jobs they paid the city’s unionized staff to perform, but which the unionized staff had abandoned for the picket line. And some had, in addition, abandoned their posts for various forms of union or city leave but weren’t replaced.

Meanwhile, Pat was on a career track. The strike ended and Pat settled back in to the remainder of that 1-year contract, which itself had been a career advance from Pat’s job back in the department at city hall. But now this new position had brought Pat into contact with some trough-dwellers with the Government of Ontario.

They offered Pat a trial job with the province that would boost Pat’s career even further. That’s something we Toronto taxpayers are eager to have happen, of course: we want our civil servants to improve themselves and get bigger, better, richer jobs on our dimes while leaving us in the dust with insufficient resources we pay high prices for.

Pat told The Operation that this was just too good a chance to turn down and that since the union agreement allows workers like Pat to try out new things and still hold onto their old jobs and benefits, this is ciao for now. And if things work out to Pat’s career advantage, it’s so long forever.

Thus Pat walks off with newfound buds in the provincial swivel service by taking an official “leave” from the job Pat was counted on to do. And The Operation must do without all that learning Pat was paid to absorb, not to mention the great wisdom Pat would no doubt have brought to the forefront once the full self-taught lesson had been absorbed. Since the slot is held open by Pat’s “leave,” there is no replacement coming to The Operation. So it and its business clients are, shall we say, screwed by the union and the stupid concessions bureaucrats and round-heeled councillors permit to exist.

City councils and staff in the past have laid the groundwork for such lavish, corrupt deals with the city’s unions. The province could intervene in this sort of nonsense and should act to tame the abuses of a helpless public by unions dealing with stupid or corrupt politicians and lame-brained staff.

It is the province, after all, that appoints the arbitrators city labour negotiators claim to fear. City negotiators say if a union can’t strike, the arbitrator will punish the city by forcing a too-generous settlement in favour of the union to compensate. All the province has to do is prohibit that as a consideration in imposing a deal.