CUPE 416 president Mark Ferguson and members of his union speaking to the media last week.
Credits: (DON PEAT, Toronto Sun)
It goes to show that sometimes all it takes is someone with the courage to stand up to a bully.
Now I'm not underestimating for a minute the complex issues surrounding bullying in the workplace and schoolyard, or how terrorized victims may feel by their adversaries.
But in this case - the CUPE stranglehold over successive Toronto mayors - all that was needed was a mayor and a set of negotiators who had the intestinal fortitude to say a firm "No" to the union's outrageous demands, and mean it.
Within days, hours even of being presented the city's final offer, it seems CUPE 416 president Mark Ferguson and the high-priced brass from CUPE National turned to Jell-O - unsure what to do with the offer and afraid that if they didn't negotiate their own settlement they'd end up with an imposed contract.
We won't know for at least a few days exactly what kind of tentative settlement was reached with CUPE 416 in the wee hours of Sunday.
However, I'm gathering the city got a good deal and not much was given up - judging from how pleased the mayor was Sunday morning.
"It's an absolutely fantastic day for taxpayers," Rob Ford told reporters.
I wouldn't be surprised to learn the infamous "jobs for life" clause is gone - except perhaps for employees 15-18 years of service. I suspect the city had to adjust their threshold from 22 years to get a settlement.
I'm surmising the city will also gain far more flexibility moving workers from locations and altering shift schedules - without having union approval first.
"I think we've done a great job and I'm proud to be a part of it," Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday said Sunday. "You have to stand up for your rights sometime and that's what we did."
Indeed the Ford regime and the city's human resources team, headed by Bruce Anderson, couldn't have played these set of negotiations much better.
Everything from the timing of the No-Board report and the strike deadline to their decision to impose a (take it or leave it) settlement on CUPE 416 this past Friday - kept the union on the defensive, backed into a corner and dare I say, rather bewildered by a regime that wasn't prepared to roll over and play dead in response to their threats.
Instead of facing a lockout, Ferguson and the Gang were forced to negotiate or initiate their own strike mandate.
I'm still laughing at the image of Ferguson speaking to the press on Friday with a phalanx of pot-bellied union negotiators, their arms crossed in defiance, standing behind him.
This said it all. It was a snapshot of a union still refusing to recognize that public sympathy hadn't been with them for a long, long time.
But why wouldn't they think that way?
For the nearly 14 years I've been covering City Hall, I watched as first Mel Lastman and then David Miller let the months slip by until CUPE managed to run the clock into June or July, when an outside workers' strike wreaked the most havoc on city residents.
I remember saying more than once to Holyday that if only the politicians could push the deadlines back into the winter and not repeatedly play into the unions' hands - leaving them to strike when it would do the most damage - the city would have been in a far stronger and more powerful position with their unions, as they were this time.
The mayor and the city's negotiators knew Ferguson was loathe to force his guys and gals out on the picket lines in February, even if we are having a relatively mild winter.
As for the contentious "jobs for life" clause in the CUPE contract, at least Lastman tried to get rid of it, even though he didn't succeed.
In 2002 the clause dictated that all permanent employees with 10 years of service or more were guaranteed a job of equal pay for equal value if theirs was contracted out, leaving management a bit of flexibility.
In 2005, Miller, put the final nail in the coffin, extending that provision to all permanent CUPE employees - a brazenly negligent move that not only made unionized employees feel they were untouchable but locked city management into a costly, inefficient, inflexible mode of doing business.
Holyday made no bones about the fact that the new contract will form the template for CUPE 79 and the Toronto Library Workers Union - as well as municipalities across the country.
"The union has said this is the toughest bargaining session they've ever been through," he said. "I'm sure municipalities across the country as well as the province are paying attention to what's been done here."