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St. Catharines City council made a hasty, behind-closed-door decision to outsource jobs at the new four-pad arena, and they should scrap the bidding process and begin consulting with front-line employees about how best to improve service, say city workers determined to fight contracting out of municipal services.

Council minutes show that, although a recommendation to build and operate the new arena facility under full municipal delivery had been approved in 2002, on April 5, 2004, council overturned that decision in a one-minute, behind-closed-door meeting. On that date, council members went in camera to consider a report by the Recreation and Community Services Department on a personnel matter. They emerged from the secret session just one minute later and voted to adopt a report from the same department on Sportsplex Operations not a personnel matter.

Following that vote, Local 150 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the union, representing 259 St. Catharines municipal employees, was given notice of councils decision to contract out their work. CUPE 150 received a terse letter from a city manager outlining an extensive list of initiatives focused on reducing wages and operating costs; not, on improving service.

We have a lot of questions about this behind-closed-door decision and the contents of this report. How did a report about a personnel matter at the start of the in camera session transform into a report on Sportsplex Operations by the end? The committee couldnt have assessed much information in less than a minute. We can only assume that the fix was already in. That council was just giving this staff report, the rubber stamp.

The people of St. Catharines have a right to know what their elected officials are actually voting on. Unfortunately, private contract deals are all done behind closed doors, away from public scrutiny, says CUPE 150 spokesperson Sean Soper.

The deadline for bid submissions on facility management at the new Sportsplex is today at 2:00 p.m. But a bid from CUPE 150 wont be among them, says Soper. Instead, CUPE 150 has responded by asking council to scrap the competitive bidding process and work with them cooperatively to identify improvements to service delivery.

Theres a new culture among senior staff that treats front-line workers as part of the problem when, in fact, we are part of the solution to improving the delivery of public services. Front-line employees should be treated as resources and cooperative partners in service delivery, instead of simply costs that need to be controlled. We believe there are those on council who value city workers as a great resource, and we are encouraging them to speak up and overturn the decision to contract out jobs, says Soper.

Since council makes decisions about funding and resources, and senior staff manages and control how work is organized, its ludicrous to suggest city workers should bid on our own jobs, says Soper. We arent going to play the competitive bidding game. We wont bid on our jobs.

Contrary to a senior staff assertion that contracting out city services saves money and gives better service, the reality of outsourcing is the opposite. Contractors usually low-ball their bids to get their first contracts. They cut costs by cutting corners, hiring fewer staff at low wages. In addition, the local government incurs additional costs to handle the bidding process, and administer and manage the process.

While city costs to administer a contract go up, the quality of service goes down because a private operator has to make a profit, they will do as little as the fine print of their contract allows. This will mean shortchanging maintenance and upkeep on a multi-million dollar arena complex. How is that taxpayer money well-spent? Asks Soper.

City employees can provide higher quality of service and more reliable service than a private operator. CUPE 150 is ready to meet with city management and work cooperatively to develop an internal solution to delivering the best possible service to the people of St. Catharines at the new Sportsplex.

The city should come and talk to its own front-line employees and their union, in good faith, before proceeding with privatizing bargaining unit work, says Soper.


For more information, please contact:
Sean Soper, CUPE 150 - (905) 680-1306
Stella Yeadon, CUPE Communications - (416) 578-8774