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Toronto looking to contract out police janitors

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, left, and Deupty Mayor Doug Holyday.

Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Mayor Rob Ford has quietly launched a new front in his campaign to contract out city services, serving notice to unions that roughly 135 police janitorial jobs will likely be farmed out to the private sector.

In a June 15 letter to the heads of CUPE Local 79 and Local 416, the unions that oversee custodial workers, the city warns of an "adjustment to the manner in which [custodial]services are provided" and states that the Toronto Police Services Board requested the city explore private options.

The decision would plunge the police board into another round of testy labour talks just one week after ratifying a contract for officers that grants 11.34 per cent in wage increases over four years as well as significant improvements to vacation time, travel allowances and other benefits.

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"I find it reprehensible that this administration would try to balance the books on the backs of the lowest-paid employees within Toronto Police Services," said Mark Ferguson, president of Local 416, which represents about 35 police custodians, "especially after having awarded such a lucrative contract to our brothers and sisters with the police."

The unions have agreed to meet with representatives from the city's labour relations department on Tuesday morning, where the city will provide its rationale for the move. The unions will then have 45 days to file a formal dispute to the city.

"I don't know what their intentions are in terms of numbers at this point, whether they're looking at all police stations, half of police stations or some portion," said Mr. Ferguson. "We'll have a better idea after meeting with the city."

This wouldn't be the first time the idea of contracting out police janitors has surfaced. Chief David Boothby first suggested it in 1998, arguing that replacing over 100 city custodial workers with private labourers would spare the force $2-million.

Years later, Chief Julian Fantino upped that savings estimate to $3.5-million and implored the city to follow through with his plan to contract out the labour.

"Council at the time under David Miller flatly refused to do it," said Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday. "They weren't looking out for the taxpayers."

Toronto police currently uses a mixed system, employing private janitors in three stations. According to the board, custodial services in those three locations costs 40 per cent less than its publicly cleaned facilities.

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"I think it's now high time we did it," said Mr. Holyday. "A lot of these cleaning companies are unionized, so it's not anti-union, it's pro-efficiency."

The total police budget for custodial services runs about $8-million.

But pinching pennies from the cleaning budget isn't as easy as hiring a private contractor. Under the current collective agreement, any public employees who are ousted from their positions due to contracting out are guaranteed another position within the city's public service.

That provision will be an inevitable sticking point when a number of collective agreements expire on Dec. 31.

City Council recently voted in favour of a plan to privatize garbage collection in a western portion of the city. The mayor recently expressed a desire to continue those efforts in the eastern districts.

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