Mayor Rob Ford continues his relentless drive to cut city taxes and the size of city staff. Among other measures, he proposes to further privatize city building cleaners. He already privatized cleaners in police stations in early 2012.
Cleaning work is often stereotyped as simple, menial and low-skilled. This is not accurate. There are three classifications of cleaners: light, heavy duty, and janitors-superintendents. They require various degrees of training and supervision.
Unionized city light duty cleaners are today paid almost $18 an hour as part of what is considered a minimum “living wage” by the city. If on a full-time basis, they earn a living barely enough to survive at the poverty level.
Throwing such city cleaners into the jaws of profit-minded private companies will drastically reduce their wages. City contracts require private firms to pay a miserly minimum $12 as part of what is presumptuously called the city’s “fair wage” policy.
Enforcement of this policy is difficult. Indications are that light-duty private cleaners in police stations are actually only paid around the present low provincial minimum of $10.25 frozen for four years.
We must ask the question: Why pick on low income people like the cleaners who already have a difficult time surviving in these hard times? The poor are already earning less than before and the rich more while the middle class is struggling. Must we impoverish some workers so that other citizens better off can gain more for themselves? It is a reverse Robin Hood game.
We already have a yawning and growing gap between the 1% and the 99%. Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of our five major banks are reported to have earned a staggering average of $11 million each in 2012!
To become a CEO, you must be totally work-driven. Let us assume they are working an inhuman 16 hours a day every single day of the year. That would still mean they earn an incredible $1,880 an hour!
Where do the bank CEOs actually spend their money? What are their real needs as human beings? An excessive and exhausting workload for anyone must lead to an unbalanced personal life. It can affect anyone’s physical and mental health.
We should ask what actually is required for a reasonable, balanced standard of life. We are all in this together. The rich rely on all of us to create the national wealth they monopolize.
Cleaners are at the other end of the income scale. But they are not alone. While the private cleaning industry is notorious for unstable, part-time, low wage jobs, United Way reports that 50% of our city’s workers have precarious employment.
The Toronto Community Foundation Vital Signs indicate that by 2025 about 60% of our city neighbourhoods will be low-income. Even the august Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) points out that Toronto’s decline in wages is the fastest in Ontario.
A comprehensive study in March, 2012, by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), examines in detail the implications of outsourcing Toronto public cleaners (see Google: CCPA, Outsourcing city cleaners.)
The study points out the unintended, hidden consequences of such action. The apparent short-term reduction in city costs is deceptive. It is minimized, if not eliminated by other direct government costs, both monetary and others. (Later information indicates the supposed city saving of $2,200,000 for police station cleaning has been reduced to an actual $800,000.)
Forcing living wage City cleaners into poverty level wages creates less stable and cohesive communities with their attendant complicated personal, social and economic problems. This costs money both for our city and other levels of government. Examples are police and courts. Also private cleaners need four times as much social assistance as living wage City ones.
Rob Ford says his job is to protect “hard-working taxpayers”. City cleaners are such people. And they spend their money locally, not in Florida.