Monday, May 9, 2011

What the #&^$: New contract for Toronto police

In this occasional feature, the National Post tells you everything you need to know about a complicated issue. Today: Megan O’Toole examines the tentative contract deal for Toronto police.

What are police being offered?

The Toronto Police Association, which represents the force’s nearly 8,000 civilian and uniform members, reached a tentative agreement this week with the Toronto Police Services Board, an oversight body that includes three city councillors. Under its terms, which would replace a collective agreement that expired in December, police would receive a series of wage hikes: 3.2% in 2011, 3% in each of the next two years, and 2% in 2014.

How does this compare to other union contracts?

At nearly 12% over four years, it is significantly richer than the most recent contracts negotiated with the city’s outside and inside workers. The latest contract for CUPE Local 416 provided a raise of 6% over three years, equivalent to the deal for inside workers. Councillor Adam Vaughan (Trinity-Spadina), a former police services board member, says this is the most expensive deal the city has ever signed with Toronto police. With a budget nearing $1-billion, Mr. Vaughan says the city’s police were already the highest paid in the country. “This is gravy on top of gravy with a serving of gravy underneath,” he said.

How are others receiving the news?

For the most part, not well. As the city prepares to wrestle an $800-million budget gap next year, critics argue this is simply not the time for such a generous deal, which would add tens of millions of dollars to the cost of policing. University of Toronto criminology professor Mariana Valverde called the tentative agreement “extremely unfortunate,” noting it could ultimately contribute to higher crime rates if the city ends up slashing youth programs, recreation programs and other social services to fill the budget hole. “I don’t think a wage freeze would have been unreasonable under the very serious financial crunch that we’re under,” she said. Representatives for the police association and the board did not respond to requests for comment.

So police are the highest paid in Canada, but so what? Isn’t it harder to police Toronto than, say, Kapuskasing?

Yes and no. “It seems logical that Toronto would be at the high end of the scale for municipal police officers, just given the size of the city, the complexity of responsibilities involved in policing in a city like Toronto, and of course the cost of living in Toronto,” Ryerson University municipal politics professor Myer Siemiatycki said, though he agreed the timing of the wage increase is justifiably “raising eyebrows” in light of Mayor Rob Ford’s stated goal to rein in the costs of government. Ms. Valverde, meanwhile, disagrees that Toronto officers inherently deserve higher wages, noting they also have substantially more resources than police in smaller rural settings. “I feel much more sympathy for the RCMP officers in small towns where there is no backup,” she said.

What is the Mayor saying about all this?

Nothing until the ratification vote, scheduled for May 25. “Unfortunately I can’t comment on the police contract until it’s ratified. I will comment after,” Mr. Ford said in a scrum this week. Asked about public comments from his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, who has come out in favour of the tentative deal, the Mayor simply laughed: “Talk to Doug, then,” he said.

How might this affect other union contract negotiations down the road?

It could have dramatic consequences in terms of what other unions will expect at the bargaining table, observers warn. The TTC is now an essential service, so if negotiations fail, the matter goes to binding arbitration, where the police contract could be viewed as a reasonable precedent. “Mayor Ford’s desire to declare transit an essential service is going to come back to haunt him,” Mr. Siemiatycki said. The police deal has set up “one of the most expensive rounds of labour negotiations the city will ever see,” Mr. Vaughan added. “[TTC union boss] Bob Kinnear is doing cartwheels.”

National Post

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