Thursday, August 5, 2010

Wage restraint legislation in Ontario

I want to start by apologizing to any regular readers about the lack of posts over the last few weeks. There has been so much I wanted to write about but I feel like I haven't had a moment to breathe, nevermind write.

I am the president of a student workers union in Ontario, and there has been a threat of wage restraint legislation by the Ontario Government. All non-unionized public employees' wages have been frozen for some time now, and the government is going into "consultations" with unions where they plan to get unions to accept two years of zero compensation on their next collective agreements, with the threat of legislating this freeze if we don't agree to it. This is being presented to us as the only way to protect public services.

According to some recent surveys (both the ones conducted by unions and the ones by the government), people seem to think that workers in the public sector are highly overpaid. This is definitely not the case if you look at front line workers in comparison to University Presidents, for example. My membership last got a raise in 2003. Over that period of time, housing has gone up more than 30%, tuition has increased by 4-8% per year more often than not, and the salary of the university's president has increased by approximately 124%! Yet, it is not the president that is overpaid, it is me... and I am making less than half of what some of my peers at other universities make- and nevermind living below the poverty line, my wage doesn't even cover the cost of my education at the school where I work.

I don't believe that forcing workers to take zeros is good for anyone, even those who do earn a living wage, but my point right now in this particular post is that we also need to be careful not to make sweeping generalizations about public sector employees. One of my union colleagues at a different university spoke about how his membership went from about 100 full time janitorial and maintenance staff to about 10 full-time and about 100 part-time, the majority of whom work between 3 and 12 hours per week... I'm pretty sure they don't feel overpaid. I can make many similar comparisons throughout the sector, and I am rather sure that people in different parts of the public sector have similar stories to tell.

I am getting increasingly frustrated with how quickly some people are buying in to these assumptions. I am baffled by how the government can demonize public employees so fully that even the NDP supports wage restraint legislation because doing otherwise would fail to gain votes at the upcoming election.

This government clearly represents the economic elite in the province. And yet, they try to make us feel guilty because many of us have kept our jobs during the recession; so guilty, that we should accept concessions in order to do our part. What about not cutting $4.6 billion dollars in corporate taxes? What about actually protecting our social services by providing services that help people rather than punishing them?

I have yet to figure out how legislation that goes against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as the Labour Relation's Act is supposed to protect Canadians. To me, it is just another example of the Ontario government picking and choosing which Rights Canadians are entitled to, not unlike what happened at the G20... they just spin it the right way in the media and they come off as protecting us. The only thing that we need protection from right now are these neoliberal politicians.


  1. The NDP supports the legislation? Ugh. Not that I have any illusions about the NDP, and not that anyone who lived through the Rae government should be surprised when they take positions like this. But, still, ugh.

  2. great post. connecting/contrasting our experience to that of bloated uni presidents is important; a friend recently pointed out our university president's house as we drove's fucking obnoxiously big..dude lives in luxury while the state condemns us for trying to put grocery money together..

  3. Scott, from what I understand, NDP reps told the president of CUPE Ontario that they were going to go with the polls, which at this point supports the freeze. If we could somehow change public perception towards the wage restraint, I'm sure they would be happy to switch sides, but I am somewhat pessimistic (realistic?) that even with CUPE's resources behind us, we are no match for the government, as the Liberals and Conservatives seem to have a lot of control over/ support from the mainstream media.

    Anon, thank you, and I recently had the same experience. My mother attended a special dinner function of some sort at the president's house, then called me gushing about how beautiful it was. She didn't even consider that the house and it's contents were being funded largely by our tuition and by funds that should be going to workers, such as myself- essentially that wonderful dinner that she attended was taking food away from her grandchildren's mouths. But, like so many others, she justified it by saying that I will get there someday... it's the rhetoric of the "American Dream", but I don't want that type of position,... all I want a tenure track job sometime in the next ten or fifteen years, the type of job that, when she was in school, most profs had, but is now becoming obsolete.

  4. Public Employees in Ontario have had pay raises that are too generous and not sustainable if Ontario is going to ever return to Have Status. The sunshine list has grown to 63,000 from 4,000 a decade earlier. The McGuinty liberals are leaving a complete mess and we finally see some public outrage at the levels of compensation that the public service enjoys on the back of all taxpayers. Only Greed would have you ask the question about raises when your entire province is failing and sinking under debt.

  5. Yes, all public sectors are overpaid... members in my union barely earn minimum wage and we all have a bachelors degree. Its easy to cite statistics about how much more money public sector employees earn than they did before, but look at who is on the sunshine list... not the unionized employees who are now being denied wage increases. Those who have high incomes (university presidents, hospital CEOs, etc) can still raise their bonuses and expense allowances over these 2 years. Corporate tax cuts are going to continue, and corporate CEOs earn raises and bonuses even in years that their company does horribly. And yet, we only feel the need to attack middle class public sector employees.