OTTAWA – Fed up with the lack of progress in their contract talks, Ottawa garbage, recycling and landfill workers have voted overwhelmingly to strike – and that means trash could start piling up on city streets as early as Monday, July 15.
The 160 workers, members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, have voted 99 per cent in favour of striking if they can’t reach a deal on key issues, including safe workloads and decent wages. They collect residential and commercial garbage and recycling in 80 per cent of the city, as well as maintaining the trucks and the Carp landfill. The workers have been without a contract since last December. Their employer, Canadian Waste Services Inc., has refused to budge on several key issues.
“We’re sick of being treated like the trash we pick up. Our members are getting hurt on the job – last year, nearly a quarter were injured. Yet the employer wants to force us to work up to 60 hours a week, and pick up even more than the back-breaking loads we already deal with. We’ve reached our limits and we refuse to put our lives at risk,” says Ernie Dion, president of CUPE 1338.
A driver on a typical residential route makes about 1,000 stops and picks up 20 tons of garbage – more than 3,000 bags – in a single day. Unlike in other cities, most of the drivers work alone on their trucks, both driving and picking up in weather conditions that are often punishing.
Canadian Waste, which is owned by Texas-based garbage multinational Waste Management, wants to bring in a two-tier wage structure that would pay new employees far less than current workers doing the same jobs.
“We will stand firm to protect decent wages for future workers – especially young people in the community. Our members won’t accept a scheme that penalizes new workers,” says Dion. “We want a decent pay raise for all our members. Management’s two zeros and three ones falls far short of that,” he says.
“Canadian Waste has recognized us as their number one service provider in North America. They want five-star service for bargain-basement rates, and we deserve better,” says Dion. “Their contract with the city is coming up for tender soon. They want to squeeze us, so they can low-ball their bid. That private sector logic doesn’t support the kind of quality public service we deliver.”
Mediation talks are scheduled for July 10 and 11, in a final attempt to reach a deal. “Watching Toronto, the last thing we want is a strike here,” says CUPE national representative Andy Mele. “The garbage collected by one driver in a day is enough to fill a football field one and a half times. If there’s a strike, the piles will quickly get sky-high. We hope management can show our members the respect they deserve.”
CUPE represents a half-million women and men working in municipalities, health care, education, social services, libraries, utilities, transportation, airlines and emergency services.
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For information, contact:
Karin Jordan, CUPE Communications
(613) 237-1590 ext. 250 - (613) 222-4436 (cell)
Ernie Dion, CUPE 1338 President
(613) 294-5953 (cell)
Andy Mele, CUPE National Representative
(613) 223-9299 (cell)