Sick bank

garbage-cityOne of the most publicized sticking points in the ongoing Toronto civic strike is the union leadership’s belief that their members have a “right” to bank unused sick days and cash them in when they retire. This has raised a notable amount of public ire (polls out today suggest 76% disapproval ratings for striking CUPE locals 416 and 79) for obvious reasons that I probably don’t need to detail.

There’s another angle to this, however, that I think is less discussed. The main purpose of providing paid sick days is to ensure that employees are not financially penalized for getting sick. It wouldn’t be fair for an employer to say “you were sick for 7 days this year, therefore we’re docking 7-days-worth of your pay.” Heck, if an employer did that, organized labour would rightly fight against it, wouldn’t they? They might even go on strike!

Except that in Toronto, CUPE has done the exact opposite. They’ve gone on strike to ensure, in part, that if someone is sick for 7 days, they’ll get paid for 7-days less work than someone who doesn’t get sick. They’ve officially taken the position that people who don’t get sick deserve to be financially rewarded for their health, at the expense of people who need—through no fault of their own—to use their sick days.

For someone who believes in economic Darwinism, in free-market-everyone-for-themselves capitalism, maybe this makes sense. But for CUPE? It suggests that they’ve become ideologically confused…that they’ve forgotten their raison d’être.

The current union leadership is doing a disservice not only to their members, but to the reputation of collective bargaining itself. The path we’re on does not end well for organized labour; a course correction would be wise.

(And no, I’m not a fan of how the city’s handling the situation—or, rather, not handling it—either. And according to that same poll, neither is the rest of the city. We need a leader, David, not a scolding parent.)

Illustration by Michael de Adder for Metro Canada

3 thoughts on “Sick bank

  1. Several things.

    First, scarequoting “right” is silly. It’s in the contract, so they do have a right. No scarequotes.

    Second, I’m not sure what’s wrong with rewarding people for going to work instead of taking time off. We all know that sick time provisions get abused — people don’t take time off just because they’re sick. So, rewarding people for not leaving work provides some positive incentive. It’s not against the mission of the union or anything like that. It just flips the incentives around: instead of not penalizing people for getting sick, people are rewarded for not getting sick.

    Third, sick-leave banking is a benefit in lieu of increases in other forms of compensation, such as salary. The city negotiated it originally to keep pay levels down — which is fair enough, total compensation and all that. But it’s not just a sick leave thing, even though that’s what it looks like. It’s effectively part of the wage packet. Which is why the unions are insisting on at least a partial buyout before they’ll give it up in favour of a short-term disability system. I’d agree that STD makes more sense, but the city can’t pretend it doesn’t owe workers some money. After all, money is exactly what they’ve been promised.

    Basically, the city has blown the sick-leave banking thing, big-time. They negotiated it, didn’t fund it, and are realizing at the 11th hour they can’t pay for it and also can’t pay to get rid of it.

  2. Hello, Chris.

    When contemplating preparing a libel suit against a right-wing blogger, looking around had me notice your unfortunate inclusion in one, and I find myself at your blog again. So I notice you’ve commented on the CUPE thing. Affects my own family unfortunately. My spouse teaches part time for Parks & Rec., so is stuck with CUPE (including CUPE Ontario’s odious anti-Israel fulminations, although one concerned ex-Green municipal employee I know has had his CUPE local disaffiliate from them; his Green disaffiliation has mostly to do with exasperation at GPO’s anti-Catholic/religious bent seen in its ridiculous ed. policy & how it was supported by GPO-ers, as well as too much Israel-bashing among too many GPC-ers…). As a part-timer there & self-employed for the rest, she’s one of those who must contribute to EI but can’t even claim if she were out of work there for reasons other than a strike. One of the strangenesses a GPC “GAI” policy would be meant to eliminate.

    Anyway, I also found myself commenting on the strike at “striking out”, .
    But I think you’d get a push back from unionists on the sickpay thing, your criticism is nice but there are other more favourable if untidy ways to look at it. And in Windsor, CUPE I think is trying more hold-the-line heroism, if it’s true a main focus is on maintaining intergenerational constancy, not depriving younger employees from benefits current ones have.

    As you see from my brief comments at the GPC site (whence you’ve disappeared — why?; too many Greens have denigrated the blogsite of late, & I hadn’t put out much lately, so put one in at , I think it’s a pretty good piece, where at the end I mention the attitude of some other bloggers), Greens should have creative input into the sad strike situation. When some locals band together to, say, compost in a neighbourhood way, as a Green I say that’s a possibly great re-localizing start. When in Windsor, still tidy after all these weeks, garbage is probably being taken away for “under the table” cash by unemployed local unionists, as a Green I again say that’s possibly another great re-localizing start (but you’d probably point out as above some apparent logical inconsistency to that, as in quasi-scab behaviour). Just like Victory Gardens (see that blog piece), a possibly good extraction from a terrible period. But the gardens are not good if only done with a heroic eye to when they would soon not be needed. And the under the table moneys would be best replaced by above board local currency. And neighbourhood composting should be not stopgap but expand into some serious depaving & local cultivation using the compost, and alternative currency, a lot of which can be used to pay city employees…see where that leads? (Know about the work of our friend, Jutta Mason, at Dufferin Grove Park? See comment on the strike at the associated website (park site is ):”Much is made of the strike issue of sick benefits for full-time city workers. But it’s good to remember that of the 18,000 CUPE Local 79 workers, between 13,000 and 16,000 are classified as part-time workers. That means they get NO sick time at all.”)

    As for the strike, to get to a “green” root, one must go beyond how a politician puts a face on things (how is a mayor, even a left-leaning one, of a major city in the $ world to opt out of that financial overlordship?), and beyond union belittlement. They are effectively at odds over entitlements translatable into increasingly scarce $. Depart some from that violently hegemonic $ world, and many creative openings become apparent. See also comment, “paper dollar profile very thin”, at the same blog item as the first link above.

    I’m picking on you here, Chris, because having met you, and in conversation maybe you do not recall we alluded to this world of problems due to big money, naiveté about which, you wondered, might be good, ie vs “wiser” but all-too-accomodationist NDP approach; I think if you were on board for the “GAI” stuff being talked up internally among some GPC-ers, as well as for more creative deeper green talk about money, you’re one who could be very persuasive.

  3. @ADHR Your criticism of the flying quotes is valid, so I wanted to respond. The reason I wrote it that way was because I’ve been offended by some of the rhetoric that the union leadership has used. When the strike began, for example, they spoke of their rights being removed with a “knife.” This past weekend, they were “disgusted” with a generous counter offer. In the context of a world where so many actually do have their human rights violated every day, and where so many even in our own city work for much less than what the city is offering, the language is over the top.

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