03 December 2014

Bad Employers

Here in Montréal, we have been watching the ongoing pressure tactics of the municipal workers, including police and firefighters, with some degree of amusement, detachment and even derision. This last reaction when they seem to be getting away with tactics they were pepper-spraying and arresting students for just two short years ago. It's too bad that their actions from then are paying off in a lack of solidarity with them today. But they are right.

The government of Québec decided to go and change an element of legitimately negotiated contracts pertaining to the share of pension contributions paid by the employees and the employers. Not having been a party to those negotiations, I would have trouble explaining what might have been traded for the advantages they got – likely salary concession or other items. But the point is that one side of a legitimate contract is going in to change the terms it doesn't like about that contract and doing it in a way that undermines the original process. We should all be disturbed by that.

As for their tactics, well, they have been creative and sometimes destructive. I don't really care for the camo on the police, but it isn't hurting anyone. The Chateauguay police adopting the sheriff uniforms they bought in St-Tite (home of the Festival Western) is kind of cute, leaving aside their proximity to the Mohawk community of Kahnawake and some troubled history between the two (bad imagery for that). Super Firefighters? Why not?! And a seemlingly endless supply of stickers on their vehicles…I'm of two minds on that one.

On the federal front, those in charge are no better. They are on a path to roll back the gains of years of collective bargaining because they don't like the results today. In typical style for the current government, they have begun this process by trying to demonize their workers as being spoiled by excessive benefits. They are starting with sick leave, as many federal employees have accumulated large banks of sick time by not using over the years. It matters little to the government in its disinformation efforts that those days are not exchangeable for pay, nor are they convertible into vacation time or anything other than the sick days they are.

Oh, they will pick and choose some examples of employees who have taken large amounts of time due to serious illnesses that they will not mention in their public relations offensive. No, these people are examples of the excesses of the spoiled government employees, not individuals who have, along the way, traded other advantages for these things they thought were important to them. The government will also not be telling us about how many of their employees retire or leave their service with many, many unused sick days. That isn't a part of the narrative. On the whole, it seems like the government would like its employees to go to work sick and infect us all.

I am one of those people in our society who has no pension plan through my job. My sick days (and I'm luckier than some in having these) are not transferable from one year to another. But I don't think that my governments should try to ensure that they treat their employees worse than other employers. I expect my governments to set a positive example for employers, to show how a workplace can be healthy and supportive, not heartless and stingy.

I am sadly very aware of what a deluded Pollyanna I am in this.

I express my solidarity here and at the ballot box. Most of the union movement has always been supportive of legislation to improve the conditions of work of everyone in society. I hope the rest of those workers find their own solidarity with others in our society who ought to be their natural allies.

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