One of the questions that I often get from Londoners is what steps did I take as a Board member to mitigate the escalating cost of protective services in our city and throughout the province.
While I believe that we have made considerable progress at least within our own Police Service, much more needs to be done at City Hall and across the Province if we are ever going to strike an equitable balance between properly funding protective services and doing so at an affordable rate to the taxpayer.
Therefore, over the next three posts, I intend to provide Londoners with the reasons as to why:
- I was so encouraged by our progress with the London Police Association (LPA),
- I was so disheartened by City Hall’s conduct during last year’s police budget dispute,
- So much more work remains, within the City and across the province.
Our Local Success Story
Let’s begin with some good news.
First, London taxpayers should know that they pay among the lowest police salaries in the province, and lower than all of the small municipalities in the region.
For example, last year, a London Police constable will earn $3,100 less annually than a constable in Sarnia, $2,575 less per year than a constable in Woodstock, and even $500 less than a constable in Aylmer. In fact, in 2017 and 2018, London police officers will be the lowest paid officers across all of the larger municipalities in Ontario.
London taxpayers should also know that over this same period the London Police Service has experienced one of lowest police absentee rates in the province and lowest public sector absentee rates in the city.
Finally, London taxpayers should know that the time and legal expense required to negotiate the last police contract was roughly four days and $4,000 respectively.
There are many factors that can be attributed this local success story:
- A highly-respected executive team that listened to the union leaders and delivered on their commitments to the benefit of both the members and the city.
- A knowledgeable LPA leadership team that not just negotiated on behalf of its members, but contributed to a material improvement in the way police services are delivered in our city.
- A Police Board that met its public safety obligations under the Police Act and yet still respected the taxpayer.
- Above all, an engaged membership that cared more about their community than their compensation, and accepted a contract designed to help London rebound from a difficult economic period.
There was also one other underlying factor that contributed to the success of these negotiations, an approach that should be used in all such deliberations.
This contract was negotiated with a commitment of mutual respect.
When I was in my early teens, I spent hours at the dinner table listening in as my Dad and Grandfather discussed a wide array of political, religion and social issues that frequently evolved into labour disputes.
My Dad was an entrepreneur who owned and operated a construction business. Gramps toiled as a Tool and Die maker and served as one of the first trade union organizers in Windsor’s auto factories. Needless to say, both men worked very hard ‘to get where they got’, and so both took very strong positions on a multitude of owner-worker issues. Thankfully at the end of the evening the two of them would always ‘hug it out’ and life would return to normal. Still, I always found the conflicting points of view fascinating, particularly since both sides of the argument often made sense – and still do. More importantly, those after-dinner debates helped shape my respect for management, labour and the value of collaboration over conflict.
I believe in the management rights of owners. I have experienced the personal sacrifice and financial risks associated with operating a business and I believe that an owner should enjoy the full benefits of this investment. As such, I believe that owners should set the expectations, terms and conditions of their employees and their work.
However, I also believe in the importance and value of the worker as a material contributor to the success of any owner. I respect that workers have needs, goals and aspirations for themselves and their loved ones. I respect the rights of employees to negotiate the terms and conditions of their work as individuals, or as part of an association or union. I appreciate how hard unions have fought for their members to secure fair treatment and compensation for their work, create safe work environments, and provide for the health and welfare of their families.
It follows then, that as the lead negotiator for the Police Board, I had a responsibility to secure the best agreement I could for the owners of the corporation – the taxpayer. It also follows that I should expect the lead negotiator of the Police Association to secure the best agreement that he/she can for their members. Therefore, in my view, both parties have an obligation to understand and respond to each other’s recent business challenges, current expectations and future aspirations.
In the case of our last police contract, both parties did just that. Both negotiating teams respected each other enough to listen intently to the other side, ask questions, respect the information presented and collectively pursue solutions to reach the desired outcome. Both parties got some things and gave up some things, to the mutual benefit of all stakeholders.
What I learned from my time at the police bargaining table, affirmed for me what I had learned from my Dad and Grandfather at the dinner table:
- Owners and workers want to be valued, respected and appreciated for the work they do.
- Owners and workers want to know that they are making a difference; in the lives of their family, their customers, their teammates, their neighbours, their communities.
- Owners and workers want to feel they are a part of something bigger than themselves.
When you engage with others from a position of mutual respect and share the same goals, the opportunities for success are boundless.
Next – Our City Hall Setback