Sunday, July 19, 2009

A scene from a garbage strike

Our family has (so far, touch wood) had enough room to store our garbage, bulk composting, and recycling. It helps that we paid for the largest size garbage and recycling bins. It also doesn't hurt that we have had a (vegetable) compost bin in the back yard of every house we have owned during our marriage.

But a couple of nights ago, the raccoons severely tested our preparations. I don't know if CUPE 416 has made Toronto's raccoon population honorary members of the local, but the longer the strike goes on, the more opportunity the raccoons have to get fat and make a mess. They certainly got through the bungee cords we used to close our green bin, and made a terrible mess of our shed. To prevent a repetition, we bought an extra bin, some contractor-grade 3-mil garbage bags, and three lengths of chain. We now have all the garbage a raccoon can eat (or the raccoons might think they can eat) in bins closed with chains and screw shackles. We'll see if the varmits can open that.

Where do my sympathies lie? 10% with CUPE and 90% with the ordinary citizens of this city, especially the young, elderly, poor and vulnerable. The city management botched the negotiations as thoroughly as possible: their initial offers to CUPE went way past inadequate. In the context of the contracts with other city workers, to say nothing of the pay raise the councilors voted themselves, the city's offer insulted the members of CUPE 416 and 79. The offer essentially amounted to a pay cut, told the workers they contributed less to the city than other workers (less even than city council). I find it hard to forgive the incompetence of the city politicians, particularly when I contemplate how easily my family has gotten through this strike so far, and what having the pools closed must mean to a family that can't afford to buy their kids a season's pass to Canada's Wonderland.

But the behaviour of the picketers, and the angry reactions of the local when the city made its offer public, raise the uncomfortable question: when a public service union goes on strike, who have they struck against? The managers and politicians, or us, the public, generally?

The time has long since come for Toronto politicians to make a deal CUPE can live with, or at least to make a solid, decent offer. And when the city makes a decent offer, the time has come for the unions to take it. I and my family have the resources to ride out a long strike; not all residents of Toronto have such good fortune.

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