CUPE 416, Toronto’s outside workers, were recently successful in resisting yet another attempt to privatize residential solid waste collection. The local’s critique of the private sector’s poor performance in the already privatized west-end collection zones, along with an effective communications and lobbying plan, resulted in the city deferring the decision for over a year.
Many CUPE members face job security threats due to privatization. CUPE 416’s experience shows that a long-term strategic plan can give power to members at the bargaining table.
The local understood that privatization was linked to bargaining, so their timeline to resist it mirrored the timeline for bargaining preparation.
City of Toronto workers’ job security language has always been a flashpoint in Toronto bargaining. These collective agreement articles have prohibited mass contracting-out in the city. The city has sought to weaken this language, and meanwhile solid waste collection has become a preoccupation of the Toronto public and media. The 2014 municipal election underscored this issue as Mayor John Tory made it clear the city would push ahead with further privatization.
With their timeline set, the local began executing a plan that included member engagement, research, communication, ally recruitment and city hall activity. The message was simple: further privatization will give Toronto residents worse service.
The facts were on our side as the eastern districts (where garbage collection is publicly provided) proved to be cheaper, had improved service and better met environmental diversion goals. Leading up to an important September 22 Toronto Public Works and Infrastructure Committee vote, we had changed opinions. The committee voted to delay discussions about further privatization. Even the Toronto Star editorial board supported the local’s position that increased privatization was not in the city’s best interests.
This victory achieved several goals. If the issue comes back to city hall during this term, it will be well after bargaining, removing the pressure of a major privatization and potential loss of up to 500 jobs. It also changed the discourse at city hall. Now, the debate was about how well CUPE members had been performing on the job and not the efficiency of the private sector.
We will always have to resist privatization of public services, but we can win by managing timelines and the agenda with a comprehensive long-term approach.