The Association of Municipalities of Ontario presented an award to municipal employees at the opening day of its annual conference in Ottawa on August 15, in recognition of their “remarkable service to Ontario’s communities in the global pandemic.” Fred Hahn, president of CUPE Ontario, accepted the award on behalf of 80,000 municipal workers represented by the union.
CUPE municipal members deliver a broad range of services including maintaining roads; operating water and sewage plants; installing and repairing traffic lights; maintaining parks and recreational facilities; collecting garbage and recycling; taking care of elderly and disabled people in long-term care homes; providing paramedicine, public health, library, and social services; and performing clerical and technical duties.
“Municipal workers played many valuable roles in getting our communities through the pandemic, displaying a strong commitment to their fellow citizens and the collective good of our society,” he said. “They made many sacrifices – from working extended shifts, to irregular hours and weekends, to foregoing vacations and time with their families.”
Hahn credited municipal workers for taking on challenging new roles and responsibilities for the sake of their communities, as many were temporarily redeployed to different assignments. That included many workers assisting in the rollout of the COVID vaccination program.
Although many CUPE locals have endured challenging rounds of bargaining with employers during COVID-19, Hahn said the pandemic showed that unions and employers could work collaboratively to maintain and improve services that were directly beneficial to the people of Ontario.
Earlier in the pandemic, AMO and CUPE jointly advocated for relief funding from higher levels of government to offset the loss in revenues for municipalities stemming from COVID-19.
Hahn urged municipal leaders to expand this collaborative approach in the future. Referring to the ravaging impacts of inflation that are affecting many working-class people including the municipal workforce, the CUPE Ontario president urged investments in public services that help build stronger, healthier, and more resilient communities.
“We must reverse decades of public sector austerity that has worsened income inequality and created conditions for social strife. We must reverse course and strive to build townships and cities where everyone has an opportunity to prosper and thrive. We can do that by investing in good public sector jobs, that translate into high quality of services to Ontarians,” he said.