6.24.2009

i support striking city workers and you should too

I am completely disgusted at the vitriol being directed at striking city workers in Toronto.

Apparently everyone wants other people to have less than what they have. Anyone Who Has More should be knocked down a peg. And god forbid the People Who Have More are paid with My Taxes! I don't want My Taxes to keep anyone comfortable! Everyone should suffer! Hey, if Those People were slaves, we wouldn't have to pay any taxes at all! Whoo-hoo!

Many of the people brimming over with anger and resentment towards striking city workers are well-paid and comfortable themselves. Some are even members of other, non-affected unions!

Newsflash, angry Torontonians. Gains for unionized workers raise the standards for all workers.

We all aren't lucky enough to belong to a strong union that fights to get us better pay, benefits or working conditions, or to keep what we already have. But the strong unions' efforts help all of us. That's been proven throughout history. Without the higher standards hard-fought for and won by unions, most of us would still be labouring under 19th Century conditions.

But all anyone cares about is the inconvenience to them. And of course, their taxes. "I pay their salaries! They have some nerve! I don't have bankable sick time, why should they?" Yes indeed, why should anyone have what I don't have. If I can't have it, no one should!

Can your employer unilaterally change your working conditions? Mine can.

Do you like it? I don't.

So should I advocate for everyone to have no control over their working life, like I do?

Isn't it better that some workers, rather than none, have a measure of input into their working conditions, through a collective bargaining agent?

For a good explanation of why sick time should be bankable, and why this is not just fat for Greedy Evil Unions, see Impudent Strumpet here and here. But my main point is not bankable sick time.

I've had my benefits cut and my workload increased because of layoffs and cutbacks. If I had a union to fight on my behalf, maybe that wouldn't have happened, or maybe the change wouldn't have been as severe. Maybe the company would have been forced to keep some of the laid off employees.

But because I work in a notoriously non-unionized sector, my employer can hit us with whatever they want. The cutbacks from my employer lower the standards throughout the industry. When the law firm I work for cut our transportation benefit and increased our workload, it wasn't long before another firm did, then another... and before you know it, that is becoming the new normal. When things improve, do you think they'll reinstate our benefits? Don't count on it.

That's how it works - in reverse - when union employees make gains through collective bargaining. A threshold is breached, a new standard is set. The higher standard becomes the new normal. We all win.

We should want people to have good jobs. Jobs through which you can support a family, take a child to the doctor without losing a day's pay (or your job!), have insurance so you don't have to choose between paying rent and taking your medication, have a decent vacation. We should want people to have good jobs so they can live good lives. So we can have a strong society.

But no. All we care about is paying less taxes, and the inconvenience to ourselves. Everyone Who Isn't Me should have not a penny more, not a single day off, not a hair more of comfort, than I have.

Canadians should be ashamed of themselves. I'm always hearing how much better Canada is than the US. Folks, this is as American as it gets, because it's all about ME. The individual. Here's Imp Strump again:
Meanwhile, I'm terrified. Not by the strikes (although the prospect of a prolonged garbage strike with no alcohol available is kind of scary for someone with my phobias), but by the attitude of the public. There are so many loud people who seem so vehemently opposed to anyone making a decent living. They seem to genuinely and truly want all these people - LCBO workers, daycare workers, even garbage collectors - to be among the working poor, floating through contract hell. They seem to actively think that it's outright wrong for these workers to be making a decent working-class living, something where you can rent a small house in a safe neighbourhood, go to the dentist whenever necessary, buy your kid some skates for xmas and take them to Canada's Wonderland in the summer. This terrifies me, because if they want these people to be poor, they also want me to be poor. I'm far less important and have a far easier job than a garbage man! They just haven't noticed me yet because my job is to be invisible.

. . . .

I know many people in the world don't get to live at that level, but here in Toronto in the 21st century, it isn't really so much to ask. I'm not asking for diamond-encrusted platinum, I'm not even asking for a car, I just want to be able to continue to make a living that allows me these small comforts. But these loud angry people who begrudge the garbage men a paycheque that allows them to buy their kids skates will, as soon as they notice I exist, want to send me back to having things crawling out of my walls. I don't feel safe.

I'd like to see a study of the people who begrudge others a safe, steady living for a solid day's work. What do they do for a living? What's their financial situation and career history like? What are some examples of what they think are appropriately-compensated jobs?

Stand strong, CUPE workers! Fight for yourselves, fight for us all!

41 comments:

James said...

Anyone Who Has More should be knocked down a peg. And god forbid the People Who Have More are paid with My Taxes! I don't want My Taxes to keep anyone comfortable! Everyone should suffer!


I don't think most of it is actually that hostile. Most of it is more "They can have whatever so long as it doesn't inconvenience me or impinge itself on my awareness in any way".

One often sees a similar approach to civil rights matters &c...

Right now, downtown, all the garbage bins are taped off because of the strike. So, rather than carrying their McDonald's cups all the way back to the office to throw them out -- that would be marginally inconvenient -- people yank the tape down and cram the cups into the bins, already overflowing from the 297 previous people to do the same thing...

But hey, at least they're not just tossing them to the ground randomly. Yet.

L-girl said...

"Most of it is more "They can have whatever so long as it doesn't inconvenience me or impinge itself on my awareness in any way"."

There's plenty of that, absolutely. But there is plenty of the more hostile sentiment too. I've seen it on Facebook, in letters to the editor, and of course on comments on news articles (although we all know those are dominated by wingnuts).

I saw anti-worker and anti-union FB postings *by someone who is a union member himself*. And I know how much his life has benefitted by being in a union, so it really ticked me off.

L-girl said...

"So, rather than carrying their McDonald's cups all the way back to the office to throw them out "

Oh boy, don't even get me started on that. :) My #1 annoyance* in the world is litter - since it's one of the very few problems that's completely in our own control.


* annoyance, not genuine anger. there are things more important than litter, but in the everyday-annoyance category, litter ranks highest for me.

L-girl said...

Oh, and I've heard co-workers say that striking workers should be arrested and made to serve two days' jail time for every one day they strike.

ADHR said...

Being on a line is no better. This hostility is part of the reason that union members are really, really reluctant to strike -- and, when striking, group together to approach people who come near the lines. This gets interpreted as intimidation, but my take is that it's mostly pre-emptive: when you've seen people spat on, attacked with hammers, struck by cars (all things that happened on the CUPE 2278 lines in 2001), you get more than a little worried for your own safety.

At the end of the day, I take it as a combination of jealousy and laziness. Jealousy that someone else has it better; but also laziness in not wanting to do what it takes to achieve it oneself (such as, say, unionizing).

L-girl said...

"Being on a line is no better."

Oh boy, do I ever know that. My father was a labour organizer and agent.

Whenever I see a strike picket, I go over to say hi, bring people coffee or water. Or if I'm in a rush, at least raise a fist and cheer them.

"At the end of the day, I take it as a combination of jealousy and laziness. Jealousy that someone else has it better; but also laziness in not wanting to do what it takes to achieve it oneself (such as, say, unionizing)."

Good point!

Thanks for your comment, ADHR.

Tom said...

I support the LCBO strike. It makes sense in terms of what you are saying.

Maybe I am missing something but from what I see a main point of the city workers striking is over banked sick time. When they already are given 18 days. At what point does the value of union action become devalued by greed?
I would gladly be inconvenienced for noble union causes but when it's rolled together with these types of things it's difficult to not to gripe.

Scott M. said...

To be fair, I think people can have legitimate beefs with strikers -- perhaps they believe that the current compensation is very good for that particular job. That's a legitimate point of view; there are some jobs out there where the people are overpaid, and when that happens and the job is paid out of taxpayer money, that is a problem.

However the vast majority of people who call into talk shows to complain seem to not understand the issues and are just angry that they can't get service A or B, and after all they're all "very well paid". If pressed on the issue, they can't tell you what their actual take-home salary is, etc.

There are times when salary should go down or people are being overpaid, and when that happens on the taxpayer's dime that's especially problematic. However I don't think it happens nearly as often as others do, and I can say that anyone yelling and screaming isn't likely to actually have a good understanding of the issue.

Steve said...

"I'd like to see a study of the people who begrudge others a safe, steady living for a solid day's work. What do they do for a living? What's their financial situation and career history like? What are some examples of what they think are appropriately-compensated jobs?"

Well, one of the guys from Ontario that moved out to Calgary, that I work with, who bad mouths the striking workers--works for a unionized freight company. Previously he'd been a trucker until he lost part of his sight.

From what I know of his financial situation is that he's been used and abused by companies. He is, like most people I work with, a gambler and a working alcoholic.

I'd have to say that it's the self hate directed out at other perceived to have it "easier".

Scott M. said...

I should also point out that the unions sometimes turn the public against them by taking stupid actions during a strike (lots of good examples from Ottawa's transit strike in January -- good news is union Executive are about to be voted out for it).

An example I saw yesterday was a picket line at a transfer station where the union was holding each car 15 minutes before they could cross the picket line to dump their garbage. You've already caused a person to drive or walk from their home with a lot of garbage to an inconvenient location, probably taking 30-45 minutes out of their day. You've done the job of inconveniencing them! You don't have to add an additional 15 minutes to their troubles. Let them in, hand them a brochure, and thank them for their solidarity.

Public Service Unions really *do* need to hire, and listen to Public Relations folks if they want the public on side. And that makes a big difference.

Kim_in_TO said...

I'm distubed to see that some of the workers on strike have also bought into the blame propaganda (i.e., blaming themselves).

In my view, the problem is not so much hostility or jealousy as much as apathy and selfishness. People would be fine to ignore if it didn't affect them (apathy), but since it does, they can only see how it inconveniences them, without making any effort to learn about the situation.

Yesterday, someone on the City Hall picket was hit by a car. The driver is not being charged.

Kim_in_TO said...

Tom:

Here's a good outline of the situation, including a discussion of the sick days.

Kim_in_TO said...

I do agree about the tactics. They make me cringe. Even making people wait two minutes before they can enter City Hall parking. The picketers could just hand out a flyer and briefly explain the situation. But I've seen these tactics turn around people who were initially onside.

The city workers already have media and majority of the public against them; they need to do everything possible to change that, and they won't if they use tactics which alientate.

L-girl said...

Thank you for your comments, everyone. Sorry they didn't get put through earlier, we've been out for the day w/ my mom.

L-girl said...

I certainly agree about the tactics, too. Often I applaud and support actions that other observers find aggressive or wrong, but in this case, I agree that the strikers should be courteous and above reproach. For their own good!

Naturally violence directed at them is abhorrent.

David Heap said...

First, disclosure: having been on picket lines since before I could walk, I am nothing like impartial on this issue. I support strikers and picket lines. Like Laura, I always at least wave or honk, and whenever I can I join picketers.

You can a learn a lot by joining pickets on the line, even for a short time. Bringing water or coffee might be nice (though it can also be a long time til the next pee break...) but bringing an open mind and some of your donated time is even better.

Talking to regular picketers about why they are out there goes a long way towards dispelling deeply entrenched myths about "selfish union members" etc. In decades of doing this I have yet to meet anyone I would characterise as overpaid or greedy -- especially when you think about the considerable financial and other risks to themselves and their families which the decision to strike usually entails.

Talking to picketers also reveals that (gasp!) they are regular people who may have already thought of many of the sensible nuggets of well-intentioned advice being proffered here and elsewhere (like by Joe Fiorito in his otherwise excellent piece in today's Star http://www.thestar.com/article/655606).

Should strikers be courteous and friendly to the public -- well yeah, and d'ya think they mighta figured that one out for themselves? Do frayed picketers lose patience and doing stupid things? Hmmm, have you ever done stupid things with a group of other frustrated people when you figured your cause was being ignored?

Again, walking with pickets instead of talking at them does a great deal to change one's perspective on such issues (and may sometimes help mitigate or prevent some of those unfortunate behaviours as well -- imagine how much more receptive picketers would be once they see that some of the public who actually shows they're on their side by walking with them).

Is the public inconvenienced by strikes? Absolutely -- that's part of the point (a no-impact public-sector strike would be ignored). And when the public is the employer (as we are in this case), we need to direct our (justifiable) frustration where it belongs -- with the public officials charged with negotiating a fair and timely settlement on our behalf.

As one of my old threadbare T-shirts says "The longer the line, the shorter the strike".

Join their lines -- better for you, and for your city!

JakeNCC said...

Great blog post Laura! This is you at your best. Unions benefit us ALL!

JakeNCC said...

Oh BTW, hope you and your Mum are having a wonderful time.

L-girl said...

Thanks Jake, twice :)

"Is the public inconvenienced by strikes? Absolutely -- that's part of the point"

Yes indeed. I didn't think it was even worth mentioning, but I'm glad you did.

Of course people do stupid things on both sides of the picket line. Some of the Tamil protesters did a few stupid things, no doubt borne of frustration, and some of the public was happy to reject their entire cause on that basis - which is WAY stupider than anything the protesters themselves did.

I was only in agreement that striking city workers have a heavy burden of PR that is worth taking seriously. It's an unfortunate burden, and one which I wish wasn't necessary, but it exists.

L-girl said...

Also, while I think joining a picket to augment and be among strikers is a great thing to do, I personally would not expect anyone outside of the union members themselves to do it.

Unhypentated Canadian said...

Unions only protect marginal workers...good workers will succeed because their own drive and ability. Poor workers will be their own agents for dismissal. It is the marginal workers, performance and disciplinary, who the unions protect at "disciplinary" meetings. I have been on both sides of the table...

And let's not forget that the majority of contracts are settled because both sides are living in the real and current world.

L-girl said...

"Unions only protect marginal workers...good workers will succeed because their own drive and ability."

I struggled with whether or not to allow this comment through, as the attitude it expresses is repugnant to me. In the end, I thought it better to allow it so we can respond to it.

Unhyphenated Canadian, you might do well with a history lesson.

coal miners
auto workers
garment workers
teachers
steel workers

Read about their working conditions before unions. Read what unions did for the workplace. Not for marginal workers, but for everyone.

Employers didn't care how much "drive" and "ability" their workers had. The best worker or the worst worker was only a cog in the machine - an expendable piece of equipment.

the 60-hour work week
the 54-hour work week
the 45-hour work week

All fought for and won by unions.

And these days, what match would one lowly city employee be against an entire city government? What bargaining power would she have?

None.

Only through collective bargaining can municipal employees - hospital employees - teachers - librarians - garbage collectors - hope to make a decent living. The living through which all society benefits, I may add, not just that worker and her family.

Just a note, since you and I have tangled before. I'll allow everyone to respond to your ignorant comment, but I won't allow a lot of follow-up if I find the comments offensive.

L-girl said...

"Employers didn't care how much "drive" and "ability" their workers had. The best worker or the worst worker was only a cog in the machine - an expendable piece of equipment."

The use of past tense should not be construed as meaning that this attitude has changed.

L-girl said...

And by the way, the "marginal worker" (by whose standards?) should be protected.

The world is full of "marginal workers" by other people's standards. One needn't be some kind of wunderkind or hustler to stay employed. Doing one's job should up to objective, pre-defined employment standards and job descriptions should be enough.

James said...

Unions only protect marginal workers...good workers will succeed because their own drive and ability.


Never worked for a company that decided to boost its stock price by 10c a share by laying of 30,000 workers, eh?

redsock said...

Poor workers will be their own agents for dismissal.

And who decides who is a "poor worker"? Management! Yay!

Nothing like blaming the victim.

Cornelia said...

Thanks so much for your support David.

Cornelia said...

And who decides who is a "poor worker"? Management! Yay!

Nothing like blaming the victim.

I know how that sucks, yeah...

M. Yass said...

redsock said...

And who decides who is a "poor worker"? Management! Yay!


Well, in the Bad Old Days before the teachers unions, districts would often fire long-termers so the district super's daughter could get a job. 'Course, the fired teacher was a "poor worker," so it was okay.

L-girl said...

The world is full of "marginal workers" by other people's standards.


Yeah, and many of them are CEOs of failing companies. Do they get fired? Sometimes, but usually they get rewarded with huge raises and stock options. Gotta attract the "top talent," yanno.

Meanwhile, for the rest of us, companies hire "the best" while basing salaries on the industry average. Makes perfect sense to me.

M. Yass said...

David Heap said...

You can a learn a lot by joining pickets on the line, even for a short time.


Like I did last week here in Vancouver. A group of funeral directors are on strike here. I pulled up in my car and asked them what was up. They explained to me that even though the company (Service Corporation International, a Tex-ASS based funeral home chain operator run by one of Bush's cronies) was very profitable, they were offered nothing in their latest contract. Not even a one per cent raise to keep up with inflation.

Bringing water or coffee might be nice . . .

That's what I did. Tim Hortons is your friend.

Talking to regular picketers about why they are out there goes a long way towards dispelling deeply entrenched myths about "selfish union members" etc.

It certainly did for me. Waltrip made $5 million last year and they can't even manage a piddling raise for you guys?

I did tell them to count their blessings for living in Canada though. In America, they likely would have been asked for a 5 to 10 per cent giveback on pay on top of having to pay their own health care premiums.

M. Yass said...

Unhypentated Canadian said...

Unions only protect marginal workers...


Define a "marginal worker," please.

James said...

Well, in the Bad Old Days before the teachers unions, districts would often fire long-termers so the district super's daughter could get a job. 'Course, the fired teacher was a "poor worker," so it was okay.


Last time I was laid off, it was because they wanted to improve profits -- so they fired all the highest-paid developers, to cut payroll costs. Of course, that also meant that they were getting rid of everyone who knew the most about their systems...

Circuit City did something similar. To cut costs, they fired all their experienced sales-floor staff and replaced them with minimum-wage off-the-street workers. The folded just recently.

Cornelia said...

Thanks for sharing, James. Yep, they can be so exploitative and mean and unpleasant, really. I have had some experiences with such bosses myself. The last time the idiot even wanted to cheat me out of compensation. I took him to court and won. That at least was fun!

M. Yass said...

Unhyphenated Canadian speaks speaks volumes with his silence . . .

impudent strumpet said...

Without presuming to comment on the validity of the statement, the disciplinary thing is a red herring. Most workers are never involved in disciplinary proceedings, they just quietly do their job. (And if most workers are involved in disciplinary proceedings, you have far bigger systemic problems in your organization.)

However, all workers have their cost of living go up with inflation, all workers need the occasional sick day, all workers need a safe and healthy workplace environment, etc.

L-girl said...

Excellent responses to Unhyphenated. Thanks, all.

To be fair, his silence shouldn't be interpreted as any one thing or the other. A post-and-run, no doubt.

L-girl said...

My employer fired one-third of the support staff to cut costs. The main consideration in the layoffs was experience: those with more experinence were cut first because they earn more, and cutting them saves more money.

I have a lot of experience, but because I work weekends, which are hard to staff, I was spared.

Cornelia said...

Glad you didn't lose your job at least, Laura. (Of course, he shouldn't do this kind of thing anyway!!!)

Thanks so much, Allan.

L-girl said...

Question for you all: Do you think the person who writes the blog UnHyphenated Canadian knows that his blog name is Unhypentated Canadian?

And if so, what does Unhypentated mean?

Kim_in_TO said...

Question for you all: Do you think the person who writes the blog UnHyphenated Canadian knows that his blog name is Unhypentated Canadian?

I noticed that error/typo and was going to comment on the name, as it speaks volumes about the writer. Unhyphenated? A member of one of the First Nations, no doubt? Please tell me he's not an anti-immigration bigot...

L-girl said...

"I noticed that error/typo and was going to comment on the name, as it speaks volumes about the writer. Unhyphenated? A member of one of the First Nations, no doubt? Please tell me he's not an anti-immigration bigot..."

It does speak volumes, although not quite as you're taking it (almost, but not quite). To him, it's ok to be an immigrant, he would acknowledge that all non-aboriginal people in Canada have ancestry elsewhere, including Anglos. BUT once you're here (he would say), don't have "divided loyalty" or "divided identity". No Portuguese-Canadian, Indo-Canadian, Japanese-Canadian. Just Canadian!

Easy to demand when your original culture is also the dominant culture you find around you every day!