Mike Farrell | CUPE Research

Reversing the privatization of outsourced services or infrastructure, or “contracting in”, is one of CUPE’s top priorities.

The Columbia Institute’s recent report, Back in House: Why Local Governments Are Bringing Services Home, documented many success stories of contracting-in. CUPE members and staff are sharing these stories to show governments across Canada that managing services and infrastructure in house actually costs less and delivers better quality. You can view the report at http://cupe.ca/back-house-why-local-governments-are-bringing-services-home

The report is one way CUPE National supports the work of members and staff to take back ownership and control of public services and infrastructure. But we’re not only gathering information about how contracting-in campaigns succeeded – we’re turning that information into practical tools that can support the work of regional and local members in their efforts to reverse privatization. These tools are slated for release in Spring 2017.

In the meantime, we can share some general principles about successful approaches. Case studies from Canada and the United States suggest that we can use both long-term and short-term strategies to support contracting-in.

The bargaining table is one place to pursue longer-term strategies since bargaining can be an opportunity to get commitments from the employer about how members will be involved in decision-making related to the privatization, or the reversal of privatization, of services. CUPE’s publication, “Our Best Line of Defence: Taking on Privatization at the Bargaining Table” is a helpful guide for examples of collective agreement language. You can find that at http://cupe.ca/order/our-best-line-defence-taking-privatization-bargaining-table

Shorter-term strategies are intended to address opportunities for contracting-in that are close at hand. There are four basic steps that can be taken to increase the chances of success.

4 steps to win contracting-in

  1. The first step is to identify opportunities for contracting in early to allow the necessary time for analysis, strategy and action. One way to do this is to create a list or inventory of services that are contracted-out and get the details of each contract, particularly the date of expiration or renewal – this will help to identify when workers will need to take action.
  2. The second step is to prepare a strong justification for the contracting in of a service. This requires gathering information that demonstrates how in-house service delivery is better for the community, for workers and for the city’s finances. It involves the development of options on how the work could be done with city staff (including an estimate of the costs), an assessment of the quality of the work being done by the contracted service provider, and information about the working conditions of the contracted workforce.
  3. The third step is to make a strategic decision about how to engage on each specific opportunity. This is a process of assessing the priorities of members and what kind of resources are required for both short-term and long-term success. For example, is it better to take action on a small contract where there is a high chance of success to build momentum for future wins, or is there a service with a large contract that is of significant importance to members where making the effort of reversing privatization is just as important as being successful? How much time and effort should be allocated to the different opportunities?
  4. The last step is to develop a plan on how to influence decision-makers. It will be important to understand and identify who, among the various people and organizations involved, has the most power to help – and who has the power to prevent the efforts to contract-in.

Our experience shows that this process rarely flows neatly from one step to the next. It is much more of a back-and-forth process where new information in each step often helps to improve the actions in another step.

But we know that, with the right preparation and commitment, we can win many battles to contract in.