Death, taxes and horrendous labour relations: these are three certitudes of living in Montreal. For over 40 years relations between the city and the unions representing its workers have, on occasion, been peaceful and even productive; 2007, it seems, hasn’t been one of those times.
So far this year the city has fired 45 city workers for laziness, incompetence and failure to show up for work, among other misdeeds—an increase of 33 per cent from 2006. These dismissals are the result of the city’s anti-laziness initiative, the brainchild of former city director-general Robert Abdallah. “We have no choice but to severely reprimand any and all employees who don’t properly do their jobs,” he wrote in a letter to the city’s 6,000 blue collar workers last year.
Abdallah is no longer with the city, but his spirit remains. Though not written into law— “It’s more of a new mentality,” says city spokesperson Valérie De Gagné—the city continues to can workers outright for slacking on the job. Public support for the tactic came to a head last year when a city investigation of a downtown construction crew found that it took 90 hours for 10 workers to fill 10 potholes.
Soon after, the city unveiled a series of pilot projects that saw hundreds of city vehicles outfitted with GPS tracking devices. All the better to reduce theft, according to the city; a way to play Big Brother, said the union. CUPE could take to the streets in protest, but it might hurt its bottom line: last week, a Quebec court decided the union was responsible for an illegal strike that took place downtown four years ago, and awarded the plaintiffs, those drivers caught in the ensuing traffic, $1.6 million in damages (the proceeds are to go to charity).
“There has always been a great volume of labour relations in Montreal,” says a very diplomatic CUPE president Paul Moist, whose union represents 24 of the 45 recently fired workers. Forty-four have already filed to get their jobs back, adding to the pile of about 14,000 outstanding union grievances with the city. M
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