WINDSOR STAR: Jarvis: How low can you go

Mark Boscariol (far right) shares a laugh with Kieran McKenzie (middle) and Larry Horwitz (far left) for a live edition of the Rose City Politics podcast in June 2017. PHOTO BY DAX MELMER /Windsor Star Mark Boscariol (far right) shares a laugh with Kieran McKenzie (middle) and Larry Horwitz (far left) for a live edition of the Rose City Politics podcast in June 2017. PHOTO BY DAX MELMER /Windsor Star

Anne Jarvis, Windsor Star
More from Anne Jarvis, Windsor Star

Published on: March 8, 2016 | Last Updated: March 8, 2016 8:18 PM EST

They’re among the lowest paid city employees but, apparently, their pay isn’t low enough.

A secret meeting, reopening a vote, a motion that seemed orchestrated — Mayor Drew Dilkens and some councillors are bent on replacing city janitors with cheaper workers. 

No layoffs, Coun. Ed Sleiman said Monday, changing his vote and swinging the decision to start the march to contract out the jobs.

Except for the 44 part-time janitors, some of whom work more than the 25 hours a week that Sleiman cited when he brushed them off. Some work up to 40 hours a week. 

The report council voted on was about protecting full-time employees, not part-time. And as the report repeated, part-time employees are not guaranteed hours. They don’t have to be paid. They have no job security and limited bumping and recall rights. Their future is at risk, CAO Helga Reidel conceded, because there will be fewer opportunities for work.  

“If that’s not a layoff, I don’t know what you call it,” said Chad Goebel, vice-president of CUPE Local 82, whose members aren’t affected.

“These are people in the community,” Coun. Irek Kusmierczyk agreed. “You can’t just resign them to the hand of fate. You have to protect them, too.”

Council could have protected them. 

“The entire issue of job losses is at your discretion,” Reidel told the politicians. “If you tell us to … save the jobs of part-time employees, that’s what will happen.”

But council didn’t.

Coun. Hilary Payne asked for a report on the feasibility of guaranteeing minimum hours for part-time employees. Coun. Jo-Anne Gignac, who moved the motion to issue the request for proposal, said no — after calling the debate “heart-wrenching.”

Meanwhile, the city has authorized spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a hiring spree for economic development and sports tourism.

“We’re taking on employees fast and making savings on the backs of the most vulnerable employees,” said Kusmierczyk. “I think it’s wrong.”

The most direct and eloquent observation came from former councillor Ken Lewenza, Jr. 

“We need to have a conversation in our community about jobs, about values,” he said, “about what kind of jobs we want to have in our community.

“The municipality really does set the standard.”

If the standard is the lowest common denominator, what does that tell other employers? he asked.

It tells call centre HGS it’s OK to pay $11.50 an hour — less than the living wage — for the latest 200 recruits.

The council members who supported this march to cheap labour — Dilkens, Gignac, Payne, Sleiman, Fred Francis and Paul Borrelli — cited a “fiduciary” duty to taxpayers. The city has already frozen taxes and cut its budget for the last eight years. More importantly, these councillors don’t understand or accept that there is more to this, that decent pay lifts the whole community and its economy. 

Council has to operate the city efficiently, agreed Coun. John Elliott. But he said, “We have the highest unemployment in Canada. It’s not a good time. I feel a responsibility to hold onto these jobs.”

But the others didn’t.

“Where’s the fear?” Borrelli asked glibly, saying he just wants to know how much companies would charge for the work.

One way or another, no matter what it took, they were going to do this. After an emotional and lengthy public debate in November, council voted not to issue the request for proposal. Barely a month later in December, at a closed meeting, it reopened the issue, asking for the report that went to council Monday. It seems difficult to justify a closed meeting for an issue that has already been debated and voted on in public.

Council then forged ahead Monday without a reconsideration vote, citing “new information.” Seems like another stretch. The only difference was how many people would be laid off. 

Then there’s what Coun. Bill Marra called Gignac’s “pre-orchestrated” motion. 

“Clearly, he (Dilkens) knew the motion Gignac was going to bring forward was going to be consistent with the agenda he was trying to push. And he knew the motion Marra was going to bring forward was contrary to that agenda.”

“If this issue is so important to you and in your mind the community,” he wrote in an email to council, “have the courage to foster full and robust debate.”

Rose City Politics commentator Kieran McKenzie, who is filing a complaint about the alleged “machinations” to the city’s meeting investigator.

No matter how you look at it, it’s not a shining example of the spirit of democracy. 

Where’s the fear? It’s hanging over every part-time employee facing no job and every full-time employee facing years of bumping.

Read the original article on The Windsor Star HERE