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Facing a bleak long-term fiscal reality as it heads into budget deliberations, Mississauga City Council took aim at future union contracts Wednesday, pledging to support a Conservative plan to curtail arbitrated settlements.
“We support Jim Wilson’s private member’s bill,” Mayor Hazel McCallion stated at Wednesday’s council meeting, referring to the Conservative MPP’s Ability to Pay proposal. The bill that will be debated next week at Queen’s Park is viewed as a tool to change what supporters consider union-friendly mediated settlements that currently cost taxpayers too much money.
“To me, it’s not about the ability of a municipality to pay,” she said, referring to arbitrated settlements that consider a city’s ability to raise taxes, good credit, large assets and reserve funds. “It has to be clear that what we are supporting is the ability of taxpayers to pay for these increases.”
She repeatedly referred to recent union contracts in municipalities around Ontario highlighted in a letter from MPP Wilson to McCallion, including an arbitrated award last year that gave Toronto Transit Commission workers a 6 per cent increase over three years.
However, when asked about recent arbitrated settlements in Mississauga that she had a problem with, McCallion couldn’t think of any. Asked if there have been any union contracts the city settled on its own that she thought were a bad deal for taxpayers, she replied: “We’ve done pretty well.”
In 2012, Mississauga council approved the same annual increase for its non-unionized staff that TTC workers were awarded: 2 per cent for the year. On top of that, council approved performance bonuses for the city’s non-union staff that worked out to an extra 1.7 per cent on average for eligible staff. Just under half of the city’s staff (48 per cent) are non-union, and the remaining 52 per cent are unionized.
According to 2011 numbers, Mississauga councillors were the highest paid in Canada, bringing in $ 131,080, including their Peel Region council salary. Toronto councillors, by comparison, earned $ 99,620 in 2011. Mullin earned an additional $ 12,000 in 2011 for serving as chair of the Credit Valley Conservation Authority, a position she still holds.
After Mississauga, Canada’s highest-paid councillors were Calgary’s, at $ 102,200. Five of Brampton’s councillors who also sit on Peel Region council earned $ 117,326.
She acknowledged that Mississauga is facing a tough financial picture: Council just passed a 7.4 per cent tax increase, has a $ 1.5 billion infrastructure deficit over the next 20 years and has taken on its first debt in decades, all while development dollars are fizzling out and reserve funds are dwindling.
Mullin said dealing with labour costs will be a major factor in getting the city’s finances under control. “It’s our biggest expense,” she said, repeating her belief that some of the wage hikes public-sector unions are getting in Ontario “are absolutely unacceptable.”