Victoria should rein in “skyrocketing” spending on consultants and cut management bonuses instead of laying off unionized workers to meet budget targets, CUPE 50 president John Burrows told councillors on Tuesday.
“If it is council’s desire to meet your budget reduction goals through the reduction in staffing levels, then I submit that it’s time for the exempt staff to share some of the loss,” Burrows said.
As part of its efforts to limit annual property tax increases to 3.25 per cent over the next three years, the city is considering automating all parkades and cutting gardening jobs by replacing annual plantings with perennials.
Burrows said instead of the false economy of laying off CUPE members, city councillors should be taking a closer look at costs of contracted services.
CUPE in 1999 pegged the expenditure on consultants to be $1,192,451, Burrows said, but even by the most conservative estimates that had jumped 173 per cent by 2011.
He also dismissed the suggestion that exempt staff are sharing the pain by agreeing to zero per cent increases.
In fact, under the city employee bylaw, exempt staff are eligible for either a bonus equivalent to two per cent of a year’s salary or a week’s holiday in lieu of overtime, and that’s unchanged. Eliminating those bonuses would save the city $200,000 a year, Burrows said.
“They also enjoy discretionary days off, earned days off and a flex-time work schedule, with the outcome being that many work only four days per week,” Burrows said.
After the presentation, councillors asked senior staff for more information on what’s considered contracted and miscellaneous spending.
Mayor Dean Fortin said it’s important to get a breakdown of the spending because many functions such as photocopy machine maintenance or advertising could fall under the category of consulting.
Coun. Lisa Helps said automation of parkades is “small potatoes” but eliminating the two per cent bonus for exempt staff makes sense.
“The parkades are not the big concern [for me]. The big concern is salaries and benefits to all of our city employees, and the ones that we have most control over are exempt staff.”
Coun. Ben Isitt said he had a number of concerns about potentially automating parkades.
“I’m not convinced that replacing workers with machines moves our community in a desirable direction in the long run or even in the short run,” Isitt said.
The change would not only affect the workers who will lose their jobs and their families, Isitt said, but there are potential increases in policing costs as well as a potential loss in revenue if people become frustrated with the machines and decide to park elsewhere.
Council won’t be making any decision on parkade automation until next week.
Burrows said about 33 parkade attendants and two gardeners would lose their jobs with the two moves.
But he questioned whether the moves would save the city $450,000 a year, as the city forecasts.
“The capital cost estimate for the proposed parkade automation is $500,000. There appears to be no estimate of maintenance, repair, replacement and upgrade costs for this proposal, although it is safe to assume these won’t be zero,” he said.
Burrows noted that 2,826 people had signed petitions in opposition to the automation of parkades.
“The change to perennial plants will not result in a great enough reduction in labour to lay off two gardeners. The implication in this proposal is that the gardeners have no tasks to perform other than maintaining flower beds. In fact, they are also responsible for shrub beds, ferneries and pruning around the city and more notably, in Beacon Hill Park,” he said.
“Additionally, perennial plants will still require planting, watering, weeding, soil renewal, fertilizing and protection from insects, fungi and other pathogens.”
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