Public sector employers, including the City of Toronto, have long sought to secure collective agreements that allow them the operational flexibility to deliver municipal services in the most effective and efficient manner possible. Public sector unions have long sought to establish collective agreement language to limit such flexibility if that flexibility has the potential to result in the lay-off of unionized employees.
A lay-off generally means that impacted unionized employees are able to use their seniority rights to move into an existing job vacancy, bump another more junior employee to maintain a position within the organization or accept an economic package that includes paid working notice and a lump sum severance package. This balancing of interests around flexibility and lay-off rights is rolled up into the topic of “job security” in this round of City collective bargaining.
Since amalgamation in 1998, job security provisions in the TCEU, Local 416 – CUPE and CUPE, Local 79 collective agreements have been critically important to both parties. The public perception that City of Toronto employees enjoy “jobs for life” has been an underlying theme in collective bargaining between the parties.
The City has always had the ability to contract out or privatize bargaining unit work (e.g., garbage collection). However, in 1999, the first post-amalgamation collective agreement provided job protection for any permanent employee with “10 years of service”. The City could still contract out bargaining unit work, but it had to find another job within the City for any affected permanent employee with at least 10 years of service.
In 2005, the parties negotiated a temporary moratorium on any new contracting out of bargaining unit work that would result in the layoff or loss of employment of any permanent employee. This was a significant restriction on the City’s flexibility. This restriction was again renewed in the 2009 round of negotiations after a lengthy and contentious municipal strike.
In the face of growing financial challenges and the need to improve the City’s flexibility to explore the best possible ways to deliver City services, the 2012 round of collective bargaining saw the union agree to and ratify a clause in the collective bargaining agreement that amended job security from 10 years to 15 years of seniority. As a result, all employees would continue to have access to comprehensive lay off rights but a smaller number of employees would now be captured within the job guarantee provisions of the collective agreement.
In 2016, during collective bargaining, the City continued to push for greater flexibility, including a reduction in the number of employees protected by the job security clause as a result of contracting out or privatization. To that end, the parties freely negotiated a highly significant revision to their job security language. Instead of stating that no permanent employee with 15 years of seniority shall lose employment, the parties added the words “as at December 31, 2019”, so that the provision now reads:
“No permanent employee with fifteen (15) years of seniority as at December 31, 2019, shall lose his employment as a result of contracting out or privatization.”
Over the last two rounds of bargaining, the City has worked diligently to achieve agreements that address this historic issue of “Jobs for Life.” Through freely negotiated agreements and without a single day of labour disruption, the parties have reached a fair compromise which mitigates the impact of the “Jobs for Life” provision, while continuing to provide City employees with strong job protections in the event of an actual lay-off.
The reality is that more than 50% of Local 416 permanent employees and 55% of Local 79 permanent employees have 15 years or greater seniority as at December 31, 2019. In the last four years, only 3 permanent employees have not been placed through the comprehensive layoff bumping and recall provisions contained in the collective agreements and have been laid off, while maintaining recall rights for the next 24 months.
In this round of bargaining, the City is not seeking to make any changes in regards to this provision.
As has been explained to the union at the bargaining table, the City’s approach on this issue is to “maintain the status quo.” In doing so, City employees would continue to have access to the same freely negotiated deal that was reached between the parties in the last round of talks. This means employees would continue to have access to a comprehensive set of job protections in the face of changes in the way the City conducts its business.