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Private contractors slowing down city crews: Union

CUPE Local 87 president Karen Martin is proposing the city examine bringing some jobs back in house that have been contracted out to save money and reduce duplication.
Martin CUPE
CUPE Local 87 president Karen Martin is asking administration to establish a new committee that would consider insourcing jobs that have been contracted out.

THUNDER BAY -- The president of the largest union among city workers claims her members are redoing work private contractors have already done and money could be saved in reversing the trend of project outsourcing.

Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 87 president Karen Martin told council city workers are covering the same ground as private contractors and money could be saved by insourcing jobs and not having both public and private crews doing the same work.    

"They're (contractors are) doing what's in their contract but they're the lowest bidder so what they put in the contract is the minimized work that needs to be done. It's not to the standard the city should be abiding by," Martin said.

"So our workers, who take pride in their work, will actually go and fix those errors quite a bit."

Martin held up municipalities like Ottawa and Port Moody, who have begun insourcing outsourced work in waste collection and water treatment divisions. 

She said revenue, water and provincial offences should be examined but utility cuts are of particular concern to her members because companies who are unearthing water lines and filling in roads have fallen behind and city workers feel the blame is falling on them. 

"We want it back in because contractors can';t keep up with the demand so it makes our city workers look bad," Martin said.

"People associate that work with our city workers, standing around doing nothing or whatever. That's not the case because our city workers are actually fixing the ones that aren't done properly."  

Martin proposed a new committee be struck, made up of equal numbers of administration and labour leaders. It would consider where insourcing could benefit the city's bottom line. CUPE represents 700 city workers but smaller unions who have city worker membership do not have full-time staff and she believes a formal structure could benefit communication.  

Coun. Paul Pugh, who spent most of his career in organized labour, praised the idea, adding union representatives are legally protected from discipline and dismissal when expressing concerns to management.  

"In my experience, if administration really wants to know what workers think, they should talk to workers' representatives because they are the ones who aren't afraid to tell the truth," Pugh said.  

"A formalized structure is obviously better than just ambushing somebody and saying, what do you think of this idea?' A union-management structure of some kind, you have regular meeting dates, you have agendas."

While city manager Norm Gale said he didn't oppose a committee like the one Martin requested in principle, he wouldn't commit to participating in one either.   

Gale has taken a hands-on approach to management, having worked alongside city crews regularly since taking on the job. He was on site with sewer and water crews on Wednesday    . 

"I don't think this is the Titanic," Gale told council.

"I think theres' a lot of strength  in the leaders we have in the corporation in allowing people who allow people who work providing services directly that are members of unions. The managers, the supervisors, the leaders of the corporation, they do good work and they deserve our respect."   

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