Philip Mcleod

The McLeod Report - London, Ontario

A regular commentary on civic affairs in London, Canada by journalist Philip McLeod.

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They lie to win our favour

LATEST REPORT #1,106: The truth is a casualty of contact negotiations. Each side wants you to believe the worst of the other in hopes you’ll then apply pressure to end a work stoppage on their favour. With a strike now on at City Hall, the best we can do is chill out and wait.

Monday, May 25, 2015 – London Ontario

Don’t believe everything – or maybe anything – you see, hear or read about the strike of inside workers at City Hall this morning. Truth is not just the first casualty of war.

For example, when union officials or company management say they are not going to negotiate through the media, that’s a not true. Of course they are negotiating through the media, which is why Mayor Matt Brown, at a news conference late Saturday, said the city’s offer to its workers was fair and a union official categorized the offer as unfair. 

Each side wants you to believe the worst about the other. That’s how the game is played. 

It certainly in not in the best interests of the mayor and the city’s senior management to have us believing this disruptive strike was caused because the city isn’t willing to pay its hard-working employees what they deserve. 

Conversely, it is not in the best interests of union negotiators to have us believing greedy workers turned down a perfectly good offer just to make our lives miserable.

Labour contract negotiations are a lot like poker. There’s a plenty of posturing, bluffing, feints and, certainly, some creative moves. But the fact remains, whether the mayor of Art Zuidema, the city manager, admit it, the city could afford to pay its workers more. 

And although the union will always claim otherwise, the workers of Local 101 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees are already receiving, by most measurements in London, a darn good wage. 

So they lie. They lie to us, to each other and often to the workers on strike and the middle managers who will be hustling flat-out for the next few days, or more, trying to fill the gaps in service once handled by people now on the picket lines. 

The hope is that enough of us will believe one lie or the other to put sufficient pressure on the council or the workers to end the strike on the terms most favourable. 

Best we can do is wait it out patiently. These things do eventually work themselves out. I can say that after being in the middle of two newspaper strikes during my career, one of which I got more or less blamed by a lot of people of causing. That’s a story for another day.

What I can say is strikes aren’t necessarily bad things. They can be terrific opportunities to assess the real value of a work force, to test new ways and better ways of doing things, to discover what products or services the public really doesn’t miss. A shrewd management group will take full advantage.

My experience has been you can discover enough redundancies, duplications of work, or unnecessary or wasteful practices to justify at least a five per cent staff reduction when the strike is over. That is especially true if the work force has never struck before, or long ago as is the case with Local 101 at City Hall which last hit the bricks in 1979. 

It’s not just the rank and file that gets bloated over a long time frame; the management side gets fat too. 

So this is the time, when the people who normally do the work aren’t there and the people who normally supervise are actually doing the work, for a honest assessment of what really needs to be done, how that needs best be done and by whom. 

And for those of us on the sidelines, the best advice is to chill. Getting emotionally involved on one side or the other isn’t going to speed up the process. There is a common purpose here in that both the union and the city do want a resolution. It’s harder work for less pay on the picket line, just as it is for managers now pressed into service as replacements.