THE CITY OF CALGARY WANTS TO CUT A SUBSTANTIAL NUMBER OF TRANSIT OUTSIDE MAINTENANCE SERVICE POSITIONS AND OUTSOURCE THEM IN AN ATTEMPT TO “TIGHTEN THEIR BELTS” DURING TOUGH ECONOMIC TIMES.
THE ROLES IMPACTED ARE OUTSIDE MAINTENANCE WORKERS RESPONSIBLE FOR LANDSCAPING AND SNOW REMOVAL AT TRANSIT PLATFORMS AND PUBLIC SPACES, AND THOSE THAT KEEP THESE FACILITIES CLEAN. MANY OF THESE SKILLED, WELL-TRAINED WORKERS ARE IN THEIR MID TO LATE 40S AND HAVE, ON AVERAGE, LOYALLY SERVED THE CITY FOR MORE THAN A DECADE.
WHILE THIS ISSUE CURRENTLY THREATENS THE LIVELIHOOD OF THESE OUTSIDE MAINTENANCE WORKERS, IT HAS THE POTENTIAL TO SET A PRECEDENT THAT COULD NEGATIVELY AFFECT MANY MORE — INCLUDING THE TAX-PAYING CALGARIANS THESE SERVICES CATER TO.
EVEN WORSE, THE FACTS SURROUNDING THE JUSTIFICATION OF THIS OUTSOURCING ARE BASED ON ASSUMPTIONS INSTEAD OF TRUTH.
When Councilor Ward Sutherland, vice-chair of The City of Calgary’s finance committee, labels ATU Local 583’s bid to prevent the outsourcing of outdoor transit maintenance jobs as “disingenuous”, it could be easy to side with his inflammatory characterization, except that would require ignoring the substantial facts that contradict his statement.
In 2016, The City initiated a Zero-Based Review (ZBR) of Calgary Transit to identify and recommend efficiency improvements and reductions in operational expenditures. An independent consultant conducted the study and recommendations were made as a result.
While conclusions were drawn, they require the acceptance of noted assumptions.
For us as a Union, these unexplained gaps in the June 2016-issued report are troublesome. This document is the primary basis for The City’s request to Calgary Transit to outsource outdoor maintenance positions responsible for safety and cleanliness tasks such as ice and snow removal from passenger areas and trash and debris removal from C-Train platforms.
Many of these proposed layoffs will affect workers who have committed over a decade of loyal service to Calgary Transit.
The following are important truths that supporters of outsourcing these positions fail to to mention or consider.
The truth is... the City of Calgary doesn’t actually know if outsourcing transit maintenance jobs will save any money.
The proposal to outsource transit maintenance jobs is not as comprehensive as The City would like you to believe. Despite several requests to be shown the details of the breakdown of the cost savings that would come as a result of the outsourcing, nothing has been shared with the public or with us as a Union.
The truth is... in order to understand the real impact from outsourcing transit maintenance jobs, you need all the details.
To ensure the outsourcing model truly offers the savings predicted, those who understand the work need the chance to review the terms, timeline and details to ensure it is a true apples-to-apples comparison.
While savings are something we can all appreciate as taxpayers, it is important to ensure we do not achieve these savings at the expense of the quality and scope of work being performed.
To-date, and despite several private and public requests for clarity, no explanation as to the details surrounding the scope of services and whether the proposal is comparable. The alternative will lead our city’s taxpayers down a path that traditionally ends in disappointment.
The truth is... assumptions made by The City of Calgary to force the outsourcing of jobs will drastically alter the real outcome.
The ZBR Report includes several assumptions that are treated more like facts to justify the recommendation for outsourcing.
Specifically, it projects cost savings as a result of reduced staff that will result in “assumed” productivity gains. Yet it simultaneously states that outside maintenance needed to be modeled at a ‘higher than current rate due to specialization of training’ and that those who are awarded the outsourced positions will need to include this additional training and the use and maintenance of their own external equipment as part of their bid.
Furthermore, in the heavily redacted Sensitivity Analysis, the consultant states specifically that, “It is important to understand that forward-looking perspectives are imperfect and make a great many assumptions with judgement and interpretation.”
Even more concerning, anywhere that the analyzed downside risk was reported to be greater than the upside potential, the information supplied specifically withheld the details. And yet, what it did confirm was that the most significant uncertainty was in productivity — the report’s largest projected source of savings.
Without utilizing actual research, the decisions made via assumptions surrounding outsourcing may be misappropriated, short-sighted or downright irresponsible.
We don’t need assumptions — we need the facts in the hands of those in a position to make expert recommendations for real savings through realized efficiencies.
The truth is... if The City of Calgary’s decision to outsource transit maintenance jobs is sound, it should include all the facts.
The report itself is heavily redacted. This means that significant detail from a variety of segments have not been shared with ATU Local 583 or their affected members.
Despite several requests from ATU for The City to clarify how they reached the savings predictions they have, they refuse to share the details of their proposal.
From what we currently understand, based on the minimal information provided by the City, the issue is not the workers, but rather, the management. If this is true, then no amount of outsourcing will solve the issues that exist, and even worse, the wrong people are being punished for the failures of those who will continue to do so if left unchecked.
If this isn’t the case, then why are no details being provided?
The truth is... sitting down with transit workers to cooperatively find ways to save money can save jobs.
When you want to discover the best way to do something, you don’t go to someone that’s new, you turn to those that have the most experience.
Bill Johnson, Recording Secretary for the union believes that this act of keeping information away from the Union, affects their ability to work together to find mutually beneficial solutions.
He has stated, “We (the Union) not only seek transparency to help our members, but also to aid in finding more practical solutions to fiscal prudence for the City.” He points out that these workers who have boots on the ground are knowledgeable about the duties performed and can provide a wealth of knowledge in cost-saving measures. Yet to-date, their participation has not been requested or considered.
As a Union, we have more experience and insight surrounding the challenges and opportunities that exist for transit workers than anyone, and with our members jobs on the lines, our motivation couldn’t be higher - yet, the City refuses to involve us in the planning.
The truth is... many Canadian cities that have outsourced civic jobs in the past ended up bringing them back in house eventually.
Unknowns aside, the practice of outsourcing these jobs is not new to Canadians, and if history can teach us anything, it’s that we rarely benefit from making the same mistakes twice.
The Columbia Institute, a center for civic governance, issued a report in 2016 titled, “Back In House — Why Local Governments Are Bringing Services Home. Of the 15 Canadian cases studied, 80 per cent of services were inevitably brought back in house because of many factors including multiple claims that, “the (full-picture) price tag was better.” It further states that public, not private, delivery of public services in the case studies reviewed meant enhanced control over quality and flexibility. In fact, in 27 per cent of the Canadian examples, service quality of outsourced functions was an issue.
A Guardian investigation of the 36 strategic public-private partnerships (PPPs) that local authorities signed between 2000 and 2007 found that 13 of the contracts – which ranged from seven to 15 years and covered IT, back-office functions, property management and highways, have since gone back in-house, either at the end of contract or as a result of early terminations.
That means that in more than a third (36 per cent) of cases, councils found that delivering services in-house could save more than outsourcing to commercial companies in long-term, multi-service partnerships.
These are only three of many examples where municipalities’ attempts to outsource civic jobs have proven to be ineffective solutions.
The City of Montreal says it's cancelling a contract with a controversial company that has a shoddy record this winter of cleaning and removing snow in the South West borough.
Borough mayor, Benoit Dorais, said they've given the company over $150,000 in fines so far and they're not ruling out more as well as other measures to make sure the company does the job right this winter. Dorais said they've received over a thousand complaints so far about the snow removal.
When Toronto tried to outsource jobs during a job crunch in 2012, academics and community leaders were unified in their review and condemnation of the practice, stating in an open letter that they believed Toronto must stop contracting out municipal cleaning jobs to stem the alarming growth of working poor in the city,
“Turning good jobs into poverty wage jobs will only deepen the current job crisis,” they say in an open letter to Mayor Rob Ford and council being released Thursday. “Toronto’s budget issues should not be resolved at the expense of these cleaners, their families and their neighbourhoods.”
“A well-functioning city needs all types of people, including people who maintain our civic buildings,” said University of Toronto professor David Hulchanski, among about 100 academics who signed the open letter.
“To replace them with people who earn half as much a year, with no benefits is just another example of how governments are increasing the social divide in our city,” added Hulchanski.
When it came to Fort McMurray’s experience with outsourcing their transit services, Director of Public Works Robert Kirby told the media “There were about 10 to 15 areas of concern”.
A lot of it dealt with customer service, accountability and customer safety,” adding that many of the complaints the auditors heard centred around specialized transit provided to seniors and people with disabilities. “This allows us to control the revenue stream and put money back into the local transit system,” explained Kirby. “We live in Fort McMurray, we’re part of the community, and we understand what the community’s needs are.”
“It’s not that we’re going to save millions by bringing it in-house, but what we’re making in profit, we will return into the transit system. Based on our best estimates and business case, that could be as much as a million to $2 million.”
As far as we are concerned, 2016 brought more economic hardships than any year in recent memory.
It’s time to stand up and let The City know that ATU Local 583 members are Calgary citizens who have struggled to keep their livelihood along with the rest of us during these hard times — and they deserve consideration above and beyond cost cuts that only look good on paper.
Calgarians shouldn't lose their jobs unnecessarily to create "efficiencies" in city services before fully exploring alternative options for achieving cost savings that don’t put our loyal, hard-working members out of work.
Together, they cannot drown out our voices. Let’s help our brothers and sisters today, and set a precedent we can all benefit from tomorrow!