“Tsunami of Union Bosses” Pushback Attack on Teachers and Public Sector

rally against education cuts in Ontario

Gananoque, Ontario   Attacks on public sector workers, especially teachers, has become as popular in Canada as it has become in the United States, especially in the country’s largest province, Ontario.  Ironically, many teachers’ unions have been supportive of Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal (which is really not liberal, friends) government for over almost the decade they have been in power, but as bargaining for a new collective agreement intensified, they were sucker punched badly on a one-two combination.  The Liberals, smarting from a projected 15-Billion dollar deficit, have waved the red-ink flag as the excuse to hammer public sector teachers.  On one hand they bypassed the bargaining process and have introduced legislation freezing teachers’ wages, clawing back sick days, and fast-tracking newer and substitute (i.e. cheaper!) teachers over more senior educators, and on the other hand they managed to get the unionized Catholic school teachers to sign onto their so-called “road map” agreement.

Much of this dispute came to a head hours before I flew into Toronto as the results were fully absorbed in a Kitchener-Waterloo by-election called by the Liberals to attempt to achieve a majority to enact some of these policies.  Chalk one up to the New Democratic Party (NDP), the energized unions, and other progressives who came together and decisively won in this riding and pushed out the Liberals who had held the seat for 22 years.  The Progressive Conservative leader claimed he was beaten by a “tsunami of union bosses,” and even though that is clearly not the case since the voters administered this tail-kicking, it would be inspiring if it were the sign of a full scale turnaround.

Meeting with the ACORN Canada staff, some of whom were from the Kit-Wat area, and hearing from ACORN members and volunteers who had helped in the voter turnout efforts, the results coming in from CSS precincts where they had worked saw results as high as 60% for the winning candidate, Catherine Fife, likely leading much of the numbers polled.   Kitchener-Waterloo has become the Canadian Wisconsin, but this is one where the victory was clearly for public sector employees and the citizens and community that appreciate their contributions and has delivered a decisive setback to these vicious attempts to rewrite labor relations in Ontario.

NDP candidate Catherine Fife celebrates

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Bullseye on Public Sector Workers and Unions

afscmeNew Orleans For all the talk about the U.S. Congress and what it might do at the hands of the new majority, there’s still a couple of circuit breakers handling too much power surge when business has to go to the Senate or even face a Presidential veto.  In the states rouge legislators could be much more frightening, especially as they move against public employees and therefore their unions in this last bastion of relative labor strength.

Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times wrote a scary piece this week detailing some of the draconian steps that legislatures and new governors are proposing to stick it to public employees and their unions, including in some situations outright withdrawal of recognition for the unions.   There are few folks out there that have not seen this coming particularly given the last year of struggle in heavily unionized California around state and local employees and the drumbeating by New York’s new democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, and President Obama on wage freezes.

Part of the problem is the wide misperception that public employees are living high on the hog with better salaries and benefits, so now it’s time for them to share in the pain.  There is little evidence that this is in fact the truth.  The only traditional advantage that public employees have had historically is that their jobs were simply more stable and secure than in the private sector, and workers traded the security of a job certain for the ups and downs of the private sector business cycle.  Unions in the public sector, rather than being greedy, simply enjoyed the same security as their members since they were not facing constant employee turnover and therefore costs were less to service and generated a stable dues base.   The real crises could be the loss of that stability.

There may be some states and isolated cities where certain jobs between private and public sector are equivalent when one measures both pay and benefits, but this has been an exhaustively studied situation, and the notion that there is a significant public sector advantage is largely a politicians’ mirage.  A good example often in the news is the mismatch of pay for public sector nurses compared to those in the private sector where devotion to the job is about all that holds the workers.  Lower wage workers in the service sector have increasingly been contracted out in past economic crises and are tit for tat with the private sector if not below.

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