Canadian Calgary ATU 583 Union ads targeting job outsourcing sparks war of words with city councillor

Canadian Calgary ATU 583 Union ads targeting job outsourcing sparks war of words with city councillor
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BILL KAUFMANN
More from Bill Kaufmann
Published on: March 22, 2017 | Last Updated: March 22, 2017 4:14 PM MDT

Coun. Ward Sutherland COLLEEN DE NEVE / CALGARY HERALD

Radio and Internet ads attacking proposals to contract out 80 transit jobs has driven a city councillor to push back against the union running them.

Amalgamated Transit Union 583 is trying to put the brakes on a bid to outsource cleaning and maintenance work at LRT stations through a three-week campaign on 10 radio stations.

A companion website ad singles out Ward 1 Coun. Ward Sutherland for what it calls misleading rhetoric in pushing for private industry to take over the work in an effort to shave $2.7 million from city spending.

The union condemns as “inflammatory” Sutherland’s contention that ATU 583’s stance on outsourcing is “disingenuous.”

“I call it an alternative facts website,” said the city councillor, who has campaigned consistently for allowing private industry delivery for some city work.

He said a zero-based budget review conducted by an independent auditor cited outsourcing the janitorial/maintenance work as one way to ultimately cut $9.2 million from the transit budget.

“They look at the best practices from all over North America and have no vested interests other than delivering a report,” said Sutherland.

Holding the line on taxes amid an economy still reeling from low energy prices means making decisions on the structure of city services, he said.

“We’re going to have to start deciding what services we should and should not be in,” said Sutherland, who also argues that a third of waste removal should also be privatized.

But the union contends the review’s details haven’t been shared with them and that the two meetings it’s had with city officials since last June haven’t revealed much.

ATU 583’s counter-proposal has been brushed off by the city, said union vice-president Neil McKinnon.

“They didn’t even respond to us and, at the second meeting when we asked for numbers, they said it’s none of our business,” said McKinnon.

As for its own proposal, “I can’t say it adds up to $2.7 million in savings,” he said, but added doubts remain over the ultimate savings in the privatization proposal.

The union’s “The truth comes to the surface” campaign cites multiple instances in which cities reversed service privatization after negative results.

And McKinnon said a 20-year-old contract that has private firms cleaning bus shelters regularly ends up relying on ATU 583 sweat.

“When the 311 calls go out, our people go out and clean them, it happens many times a day,” he said.

“This is what we’re afraid will happen with these 80 positions.”

Union officials plan to meet with city councillors before they vote on the issue in June, said McKinnon.

Sutherland said ATU’s push to protect its members is no surprise given three city union contracts expire at year’s end.

“Unions are a business and that’s how they get their dues,” he said.

BKaufmann@postmedia.com

on Twitter: @billkaufmannjrn