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Local 416 CUPE worker Chris Brearey (left) watches as management workers at Bouchette Street in Toronto load garbage into waiting trucks. (Anne-Marie Jackson for The Globe and Mail/Anne-Marie Jackson for The Globe and Mail)
Local 416 CUPE worker Chris Brearey (left) watches as management workers at Bouchette Street in Toronto load garbage into waiting trucks. (Anne-Marie Jackson for The Globe and Mail/Anne-Marie Jackson for The Globe and Mail)

city hall

Why Toronto may not get privatized garbage pickup any time soon Add to ...

When Rob Ford campaigned, he made contracting out garbage sound easy.

But imagine this: It’s one year from today, and Mayor Ford is waging an impressive war on Toronto’s public-sector unions over who takes out the trash.

He’s already won a key council vote in favour of contracting out garbage pickup. He’s served CUPE Local 416 with the requisite three-months notice that privatization is imminent.

Now garbage haulers and thousands of other city workers have been shivering on the picket line for three weeks – not because they decided to strike, but because Mayor Ford locked them out the minute their contracts expired at 12:01 a.m., Jan. 1.

He’s hired scabs to empty the temporary dumps and security guards to keep the picketers in line.

All Mayor Ford needs now is to summon the guts his predecessor lacked while he waits for big labour to cave on the job-security guarantees that make it nearly impossible for Toronto to save cash through privatization.

Reverie aside, easy is the last thing that this process is going to be.

Even if the mayor takes the hardest line imaginable – the storyline above – the ironclad job-security language in the unions' contracts could stymie his efforts to save anything near the $49-million the C.D. Howe Institute predicted garbage privatization could trim from Toronto’s annual budget.

That's a big problem for Mr. Ford, who badly needs new sources of savings and revenue to kill a land-transfer tax that is expected to rake in $220-million this year – more than the net budgets of the transportation and municipal licensing departments combined. If Mr. Ford intends to keep his word on the real-estate tax and balance a 2012 budget that won't be engorged with David Miller's leftover surpluses, he'll have to radically remake Toronto's business model in the span of a single budget.

He's already ordered a third-party management review of all city departments, starting with the biggest fish; he has asked for a list of city assets to sell; and he plans to launch a comprehensive review of the fees Toronto charges for everything from recreation programs to building permits.

Contracting out garbage is part of the plan too. But what if, as the mayor's own deputy concedes, it takes years and a piecemeal approach to privatize garbage collection in Toronto, if it can happen at all?

In the meantime, Mr. Ford would most likely find himself ensnared in a war whose outcome is a Pyrrhic victory at best.

“I think it’d be a huge issue,” John Cartwright, president of the powerful Toronto and York Region Labour Council, said of contracting out. “I think it’s a recipe for tremendous labour unrest.”


The challenge facing the Ford administration is the sheer size of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 416’s solid-waste work force and the job-security provisions in their existing deal, which expires Dec. 31, 2011.

In Toronto, there are the equivalent of 920 permanent, front-line staff collecting garbage, recyclables, composting and hazardous waste from curbs, high-rise buildings, businesses, public litter bins and elsewhere. Another 335 work in transfer and disposal, according to city spokeswoman Juanita Christmas.

CUPE Local 416’s current contract compels the municipal government to find another job for every permanent worker displaced by privatization – meaning a mayor who has vowed to reduce staff through attrition would have to break his word and absorb as many as 1,255 positions into the existing municipal work force if he tried to contract out the whole service in one fell swoop.

How large an impediment is that?

“Big. Big,” Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday concedes. “In Etobicoke, we did not have our hands tied behind our backs like that.”

Mr. Holyday, who was mayor of the old municipality when it privatized curbside pickup in 1995, is now chair of council’s employee and labour relations committee and one of Mr. Ford’s point men on privatization.

It’s too early to predict whether Mr. Ford would try to snatch the union’s job-security blanket when the next round of bargaining heats up in early 2012, Mr. Holyday said.

“But I imagine they’d fight tooth and nail over that. Why wouldn’t they? They should never have had it in the first place.”

It was Mel Lastman who, in 1999, first agreed to guarantee jobs for all municipal workers with 10 years of service or more.

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