HAMILTON, Ont. – City of Hamilton workers, represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), are determined to stop the two-tier employment scheme currently practiced by city management. The issue of precarious employment and the casualization of work at the city will be the main focus of upcoming mediation talks between the union and city representatives.
“The use of casual workers must end, as it is discriminatory and unacceptable,” said Derron Vernon, president of CUPE 5167. “Casual workers are treated as second-class citizens, with different rates of compensation, less benefits and workplace rights, even though they work for the same city and perform the same duties as their full-time colleagues.” Maintaining a two-tier workforce relying heavily on casual positions demoralizes staff and leads to tensions in the workplace, undermines the quality of services as training and promotion opportunities are lost and recruitment becomes difficult.
Casual employment was introduced in the city as an interim measure to deal with staff shortages caused by higher than expected early retirements, during amalgamation. This interim measure of allowing 10 per cent of department staff to be casual workers was a short-term arrangement to deal with an unusually large number of job vacancies. However, over the years, management has abused this privilege and created a second tier of over 400 ‘casual’ staff, some with over six years of service, without the benefits and rights accorded to full-time city workers.
Bargaining talks between the city and the union reached a stalemate last week when the city tabled a proposal to double the hiring of casual workers to 20 per cent of the workforce. “Knowing full well the union’s position to end casual employment, city representatives deliberately introduced the new proposal to play hardball with us,” said Vernon. “It became very clear to us that city negotiators had no respect for the workers and the union.”
Union representatives requested a ‘no-board’ report from the provincial conciliator, triggering a countdown to a lockout or a legal strike. The workers’ last contract expired on December 31, 2006. Many outstanding issues remain, including wages, benefits and many others, because city negotiators repeatedly cancelled, rescheduled and refused dates to meet, resulting in only eight unproductive meetings since the contract expired.
“It speaks volumes about the attitude of the city when they entrust a part-time outside consultant, which is another form of casual worker, to be their chief negotiator,” said Vernon. “City leaders must take the upcoming mediation talks seriously and change their casual attitude toward their own workers, otherwise there will be labour unrest.” Mediation talks are planned for November 29 and 30.
The over 2,700 inside and outside workers provide a wide range of services, including public works, planning, public health inspection, social services, clinical dieticians and dental hygienist services, building and contract inspections, administration services, child and youth services, waste collection, water distribution, court monitoring, sewers and sanitation, wastewater maintenance, parks and pool maintenance, arenas operations, municipal law enforcement, mechanic and welding services, animal control, winter roads snow plowing, sanding and salting services and others.
For further information, please contact:
Derron Vernon, President CUPE 5167: 905-517-0448 cell
Andrew Hunter, CUPE National Representative: 905-575-5411 or 905-531-7599 cell
James Chai, CUPE Communications: 416-292-3999