Editorial: City workers’ contract is too rich

The City of Victoria and its largest union — CUPE Local 50 — have reached a new four-year contract. This is the first time in 40 years that the city has bargained independently with the union.

Previous contracts were negotiated collectively by the Greater Victoria Labour Relations Association, which represents most municipalities in the region.

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Several mayors spoke out against this go-it-alone approach, arguing that the departure of Victoria would weaken the bargaining position of the remaining municipalities.

It remains to be seen if that will happen. Victoria is so far the only council to conclude a new contract; the other local governments are still in discussions with the union.

What we can say is that, on a compounded, annualized basis, the salary provisions in this contract are richer than those in the previous one.

More striking than the pay increases, though, are the generous benefits scattered throughout municipal contracts with CUPE. We don’t know what Victoria agreed to this time around, but here is a sample of what the previous contract contained.

After one year of service, a regular employee gets three weeks vacation per year. After 16 years of service, a regular employee gets 28 vacation days a year. These are in addition to the 12 statutory holidays that everyone receives.

Someone with 30 years of service receives 61 vacation days a year, plus the 12 statutory days off. That means a staff member at the top end of the scale gets more than 14 weeks off a year.

An employee with one year of service receives 12 paid sick-leave days per year. Workers with 15 years of service get 24 paid sick days a year, and these can be banked to a total of 130 days.

Moreover, employees on sick leave continue to earn regular vacation and sick-leave entitlements for up to six months. So while you’re on sick leave, you accrue still more sick-leave days.

This is the kind of contract that brings public administration into disrepute. Why would voters have confidence in elected officials who negotiate such gratuitous deals?

And it goes on. Municipalities pay 80 per cent of their employees’ MSP premiums, and also 80 per cent of dental insurance costs (though only 50 per cent for specialty procedures such as bridges and crowns).

Employees also get life insurance worth three times their annual salary. Here again, the employer pays 80 per cent of the cost.

And municipal workers have their own pension plan, which both they and their employer pay into. The employer’s annual contribution varies by the wage, gender and age of the employee, but amounts to between 10 and 11 per cent of the employee’s salary.

That means for a staff member earning $75,000, the municipality is paying roughly $7,500 a year into that worker’s pension.

These are excessive benefits, far beyond anything the ordinary taxpayer can expect to receive. Roughly half of all Canadians, for example, have no work-based pension. Yet it’s the ordinary taxpayer who gets handed the bill for the municipal workers.

If this is the kind of sweetheart deal that CUPE extracted under the previous regime, where the municipalities bargained collectively, we can only imagine the outcome when employer solidarity collapses.

There is also a very real question about conflicts of interest. Four of the nine councillors who voted to bargain in isolation received campaign contributions from CUPE during the last municipal election. Two of these councillors, Jeremy Loveday and Ben Isitt, raised about half their total war chest from the union.

This is not just the fox guarding the henhouse, this is the chickens happily going along for the ride.

It’s high time the auditor general for local government got involved.

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