Members of the CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) Local 241 couldn't enjoy their Labour Day as much as they would have liked, for they're concerned that some members might be looking at their last Labour Day as employees of the City of Guelph.
At the annual Labour Day Picnic in Riverside Park this afternoon, Local 241 President Paul Clulow took a moment to break from the music and festivities to tell his brother and sister union members that there might be a fight coming to secure good, local union jobs at the City of Guelph.
The City initiated the first of three reviews earlier this year after the pilot was approved by council in 2016. Solid Waste Resources was the first, with boulevard maintenance and Guelph Transit rounding out the initial trio of services to be reviewed. The first completed review will be Solid Waste, and CUPE's leaders are reading the writing on the wall.
"The bottom line is that there's a consultant that has come into the City of Guelph, Dillon Consulting, and we've actually asked for the tender and everything else to see what the hidden agenda is, and [the City] won't provide it," said Clulow. "So I think there's a lot of suspicion."
That suspicion is that Dillon, a consulting firm based in Kitchener, is going to recommend to council that Solid Waste Resources be privatized in some capacity. The department is multifaceted with employees working in collections, public drop-off, hazardous waste collection, and the waste facility itself, and Clulow thinks that the Dillon report will suggest that contracting out some of those services could result in cost savings for the City.
This is not a foregone conclusion. The agenda for the special September 18 meeting has not yet been released (it should be posted online this coming Thursday or Friday), but the City Clerk has saved the date in the council and committee meeting calendar. CUPE 241, which represents 345 full-time and part-time outside employees, is also saving that date for an information picket and solidarity rally before the meeting. Members of 245 will also likely be delegating at this council meeting.
"We need to raise our voices on September 18, and make sure that we're there to say that this is not the place to start with privatizing. This service is working fine, and we need more enhanced public services, not privatizing them out," said Janice Folk-Dawson of the Guelph and District Labour Council.
Clulow says that this is a matter of "community values", and that Guelph's status as a leader on waste management is at stake. "Guelph holds history with that recycling plan," he explained. "The diversion rate is 68 per cent. That's huge, so if you contract that out, you know that you're not going to get the same result with a contractor than when it's in public hands."
In the next week, CUPE will unveil its advocacy campaign on behalf of those public sector workers, radio ads will played on the local airwaves, a website has been set-up to gather names on a digital petition, and members from the national office of CUPE have been dispatched to offer "a lot of players and researchers", according to Clulow.
Obviously, CUPE is also hoping to rally people to reach out their councillors to speak favourably about keeping public sector jobs in the public sector. Some of those councillors were sitting nearby as Clulow addressed the crowd in the above video.
"I think the councillors that you see here today, it would be safe to say that they are in favour of public services, and we'll see where that goes," Clulow said after his speech.
"I think business reviews are fine, and they should be done all the time, but I think that if the conclusion is foregone, it's inappropriate," said Ward 3 Councillor Phil Allt afterward. Allt was joined by Ward 2 Councillor James Gordon and Ward 5 Councillor Cathy Downer at today's event.
"I believe in keeping public services public," Allt added. "I am not convinced that there are many savings in terms of privatizing something. I think all this does is move jobs, and move profits, out of Guelph."
While some are hoping for political support in the struggle, others smell politics in what might be proposed in the service review reports.
"We find it quite interesting [Solid Waste] is where they chose to start when the auditors report in 2015 came out and said that actually our solid waste recycling was a very viable operation, well-managed, and serving the community well," said Folk-Dawson.
"We're very curious as to why that service review is happening at this point, and to us, it would appear it's pretty political," Folk-Dawnson added. "It seems to us that we have a mayor that's looking at privatizing most of the services, and when he gets a report from one group that doesn't go in his favour, he'll go to another group."
This isn't the first time accusations of being in favour, if not being an outright proponent, of privatization have chased Mayor Cam Guthrie. In 2011, then Councillor Guthrie proposed the idea of exploring the possibility of privatizing Guelph's waste collection. This was six years after council heard that contracting out waste collection would cost the City $30 more per tonne versus the status quo and a publicly-owned service.
While privatization hasn't explicitly been a part of the service review, it nonetheless has been a consideration. "Private collection is part of the scope of the review," Guthrie said in an interview with the Mercury in 2015. "I will be the first to hit the no button on this if it doesn't make sense, [but] We'll never know if we don't do the audit. We owe it to the community to find out."
In the meantime, Clulow and his team are getting in fighting shape, and he's advising other unionized employees in the other sectors being reviewed do the same.
"They should be, and Guelph Transit is one of them," Clulow said. "They're in negotiations right now. I'm not sure what's on the table, but I imagine they're dealing with something in language issues that opens the door to service review changes. I'm only assuming that, but putting one-to-one together, I think it's going to be interesting."