Civic Strike : Essential Service?

Civic Strike 2009Going on its 10th day today, the civic strike has brought out many views and emotions to our city.  With no garbage pick-up, no day-care services and even no city-run Canada Day events…many are asking why do we not make it an essential service, while many too are against that label.  We both have opposing views of granting the essential services label to the civic workers, we want to know what you think about making civic workers an essential service.  Feel free to debate in the comments section.


About 30,000 city employees have been without a contract since December 31.

Negotiations broke down last Monday, with members of CUPE Local 79 and Local 416 walking off the job at 12:01am.

At issue are benefits, including sick days, seniority rights, job security and scheduling.  Employees want to keep 18 sick days a year which can be banked and cashed out at retirement.  But the City wants to create short-term disability programs instead.

Many residents are upset that instead of workers collecting the trash from in front of their homes, the city has set up temporary garbage sites in public parks.

There are 19 already in use, and if they fill up, more green spaces could become temporary dump sites.

“The worldwide recession has affected the city.  City negotiators worked very hard to put the kind of proposals forward that would have resulted in a fair agreement.  It is regrettable that those were not accepted by Locals 416 and 79. The City is facing enormous budget challenges in 2009/2010 and beyond. The cost of providing services must be in balance with the revenues the City has available to pay the bills.”  Mayor David Miller

“At 9:30 [Sunday] evening, the City of Toronto tabled a proposal with Local 416, a proposal that we considered complete garbage. It was an attack, a vicious attack on our membership. And unfortunately our bargaining committee has had to take a decision to take a strike, to ensure that the collective agreement that has been negotiated over decades remains intact.”  Local 416 President Mark Ferguson

garbage_strike_queen_john_01 Toronto Garbage Strike Day One strike-garbage-456

Toronto City Strike jun1709-garbage jun2209-strikeanger


Essential Services:

  • a service, facility or activity of the Government of Canada that is or will be, at any time, necessary for the safety or security of the public or a segment of the public
  • forbidden by law from striking, but beneficiaries of arbitrated wage settlements that often are more lucrative than those achieved through collective bargaining

I want to first state that, like everyone else, I am equally appalled and loathe the fact that these civic workers are on strike for minute reasons (sick days among many) when we are in the midst of the worst recession in history.  There are thousands upon thousands of unemployed Torontonians who would happily take their jobs with no benefits; not to mention thousands who are employed and do not even get one sick day at all…let alone 18!  However, whatever disgust I have towards the unions and strikers does not change the fact that they do have the legal and constitutional right to strike.  As a democratic society, anyone belonging to a union and not deemed an essential service has the legal right to strike (walk off the job) if over 50% of active union members votes in favour for a strike.  If someone is working in an environment where they feel is not right, I would hope that we can all agree that they have every right to stand up for what they believe in.

Now, some will say that since we pay city taxes for it, it’s only fair that we get that service…or at least some sort of skeleton staff if a strike is necessary.  Well, I do agree with that statement, but it all leads to the basic right to strike.  And the City does have a skeleton staff to handle any major nuisances if necessary; there were about 100 paid non-union City workers cleaning up after the Pride Parade.  I believe if the City had more money, then either the strike would’ve never happened or it would’ve had more non-union staff on hand.

Now, many will agree with the basic right to strike and then conclude then that the government should deem garbage collection as an essential service.  That is a very dangerous and wrong path to take, for a couple of reasons.  If garbage collection was deemed an essential service, it would automatically take that basic right to strike (and protest, to an extent), that many agree on, away from workers.  Therefore, if the government takes away that right away from employees, it would have to compensate them in lieu of that right…therefore edging us more into debt.  Now the most important reason why deeming garbage collection as an essential service is not the way to go: it may be smelly, it may look unpleasant and might be an inconvenience…but it is in no way an essential service where life is being threatened or the City itself is losing billions and billions of dollars everyday because of it.

An essential service is defined as a service necessary for the safety or security of the public.  Hence why the police, firefighters and paramedics are rightfully deemed essential services because they are necessary for the saving of lives.  Just because it smells or it looks disgusting doesn’t endanger the public.  Now, if the strike goes on for months and months, and the garbage endangers the public, then yes…the government might consider making this a priority.  The City has already designated 19 dump sites where residents can dispose of their garbage, therefore minimizing the overflowing of garbage everywhere.

If garbage collection is deemed an essential service, we are not only taking away the right to strike when it is not necessary, but we might as well make everything else an essential service: since one person’s inconvenience is another’s essential service.


Fact: Garbage collection is a government funded organization

Fact: It is a service that effects the entire city of Toronto

In this section we are looking at accountability.  It has been argued that garbage collection does not fit the category of essential services because it doesn’t threaten the safety of the public, let’s say for the sake of this discussion that we agree to that statement.  But where is the accountability?! How is a city run organization taking the city hostage?!  We as tax payers pay for the service of having our garbage collected among many other city run programs.

I would like to state this from the beginning that if garbage collection was a privately owned company I would not be making this case, but the fact is that it is run by the city, and the city is here to represent the public.  So, my stance is to argue that garbage collection should not be given the free reign of an independent corporation with respect to striking and should be held accountable like “essential services” sectors that have restrictive striking ability.  No one is talking about taking their right to strike.  What we are debating here is that government run organizations are not the same as private sector corporations and should work on a modified contract like “essential serivces” organizations.

These organizations are in place by the city for the city and as a result  I would also like to add that I agree that garbage collection is not an “essential service” but unfortunately we don’t have another option.  Ideally in my opinion, the government should look into a creating a separate sector similar to “essential services” for non essential government run programs, and to put into legislation a clause that puts some degree of accountability to these programs.  As it stands right now, only the garbage  and daycare workers are on strike.  What if other government run programs  go on strike all at the same time?  Imagine if the TTC, garbage, daycare, libraries all went on strike at the same time?  What would happen then?!

The reality is that these organizations aren’t independent, they get their funding from the government and affect the entire city of Toronto.  As a result, there needs to be some alternative that stipulates that government run programs can’t simply walk off the job leaving the city high and dry, especially in a time when the hands of the government are tied due to severe budget restraints.  Should the government be more concerned over making provisions for 18 sick days or ensuring that the thousands of unemployed Toronto citizens are getting their E.I.?

what are your thoughts on this strike?

Join the conversation


  1. Sigh, another article blaming the garbage men. It’s not about the money, it’s about concessions. How can you blame them? Sure we are in a recession, but do you have any idea what these men have to go through every single day. Some people say they would easily go pick up trash for half of what these guys make. HA! The old saying “walk a mile in my shoe” applies here. The majority of people probably couldn’t last a day doing this unappreciative job. You have any idea what some of the turnover rates are when it comes to this job? Instead of listening to the media, try drawing your own logical conclusions. Lastly, do you REALLY think these people want to go on strike? They just want equality, you know the benefits that they have worked TIRELESSLY for. How come other unions, and city management keep getting pay increases, while the ones that help make the city ESSENTIALLY RUN get shafted. People want to use the recession as an excuse, well just because it’s hard times doesn’t mean you should automatically give up your rights as a worker.

    1. I don’t think the City is using the recession as an excuse.
      The fact is we ARE in a recession. I also beleive that there is a lack of communication between the Union Reps and the workers. A good portion of the workers do not feel that they should be on strike and would like to go back to work. I do agree with your point about how we decipher media coverage…that’s why I don’t understand why this is being only labelled as a “Garbage Strike”. Through conversation, I heard stories of parents who have to decide which one of them are going to stay home with their child as there is no daycare service. If you haven’t noticed, this recession is serious and people are getting layed-off (and fired) all over for the smallest of things.

      If the City were to cater to the Union Rep’s ideal package, more layoffs would ensue. I mean, how are employers supposed to pay for all of this without cutting some costs (ie workers, especially young people with less seniority)?

      Maybe we should take the path of the Chicago Mayor and hand out pink-slips if they don’t go back to work. iJoke

      Right now the Union reps are dealing with a left-wing government who I feel is as Union/Labour friendly as we’ll ever get. My only fear is that we end up with a Right-wing
      government down the line that would fight for essential service consideration and would privatize everything and leave workers in a worse-off situation.

      Unions are important and they do advocate on behalf of workers. In this particular situation my beef is with the Union Reps (not Unions as a whole) as I don’t feel that the needs of the workers are at the centre of attention. I feel that the workers on strike, who are only receiving $20 a day and are not rcv’g benifets, are getting it worse – especially in a recession.

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