After a years-long fight, first to organize and then to achieve their first collective agreement, Toronto City Council is threatening to flip contracts on a group of unionized crossing guards. City staff have made a recommendation on the next round of crossing guard contracts, and 386 unionized workers with CUPE 5519 may be passed over in favour of precarious and non-unionized workers.

“There’s still time to save these jobs, there’s still time for Toronto councillors to do the right thing and to live up to their own promises to be a fair employer,” said Dave Petten, Chair of CUPE Ontario’s Municipal Employees Coordinating Committee representing 90,000 members. “These workers showed incredible courage in organizing for a say in their future. Now Toronto city staff are trying to strip them of that say and reward city contracts and taxpayer dollars to companies that don’t give their workers a voice.”

Crossing guards are often taken for granted and overlooked – until tragedy strikes. Even with school board trustee support, a shortage of trained workers means it can take more than a year to assign a crossing guard to dangerous intersections once they’ve been identified.

“We’ve seen what’s happened in other municipalities when cities try suppressing salaries for these critical workers. They can’t hire or keep workers. Intersections go unstaffed. And children families pay the price,” said Petten. “That’s where Toronto is headed with this staff recommendation. We are calling on City councillors to stand up for workers and the services that Torontonians rightfully expect.”

The staff recommendation now goes to the city’s General Government Committee, comprised of councillors Alejandra Bravo, Lily Cheng, Stephen Holyday, Josh Matlow, James Pasternak, and Gord Perks. Their next meeting is May 30.

Crossing guards’ work is precarious and dangerous. They engage with drivers in some of the busiest intersections in the city, putting their body in harm’s way to protect the most vulnerable pedestrians. CUPE 5519 members didn’t have sick days or proper benefits and were only paid $15.68 an hour, just a few cents over minimum wage. In their first collective agreement, they secured big gains including a 14 per cent wage increase, paid sick days, and improved benefits covering eyeglasses and orthotics. An overwhelming majority of members – 96.4 per cent – voted in favour of the agreement.

“We’re not asking for too much. We want to work; we want to keep children and elderly people in our city safe. We just want a fair contract,” said Myra Chico, CUPE 5519 acting president. “To have put in so much time and effort only to have our rights stripped away because staff want to save the city a few cents at the cost of workers, it’s shameful. I hope City councillors do the right thing.”