John Baglow

Ontario labour under a conservative lens [1]

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Hudak2.jpg

Postmedia pundit Andrew Coyne thinks he’s found himself the perfect stereotype to galvanize the anti-union folks in Ontario. With Tim Hudak, the shallow ideologue who took his Progressive Conservative party to ignominious defeat last year, Coyne perceives a glorious opportunity to strip Ontario workers of their union rights.

Jimmy Hazel, head of the Maintenance and Construction Skilled Trades Council in Toronto, is a blunt-spoken man. He reminds me of another, now departed union leader, Andre Corneiller, who represented ATU Local 279 in Ottawa during a lengthy bus strike in 2008.

Neither of these brothers, it is fair to say, is/was particularly media-savvy. Just check out the Corneiller vid linked above. As a PSAC VP who used to have regular dealings with the media, I couldn’t help but wince a little. Hazel has now hired himself a communications consultant. Good.

But keep in mind that neither of these plain-spoken gentlemen was elected to represent anyone but his own members. They weren’t put in their positions because they knew which spoon to use at a state banquet. Raw, real, they defend the interests of their constituents above all else—indeed, one might wish that Members of Parliament would do half as well at that.

Hazel doesn’t like being questioned by the generally hostile media about the price of this or that job, or the work rules in place, or the agreements in place with the Toronto District School Board. “We don’t need to f—ing prove anything to anybody about costs,” says Brother Hazel. And you know what? I agree with him. Up to a point.

The costs dug up by the Star do seem out of whack.

And Hazel in several instances happened to agree. “If you are right,” he said to the Star reporter, “I will stand behind you in the paper and say it is a problem and you can come with me while I investigate.” He was as good as his word: he looked into it, found some problems, fixed them.

Hazel spent a week on his investigation and also hired a crisis communication consultant. In some of the cases, including the pencil sharpener and the electrical outlet, Hazel now says the problem was a “clerical error” and much of the money was refunded to the schools in question.

He went on to make a general point:

“Our division processes approximately 190,000 work orders annually. Regrettably some errors happen in work orders, time slips or in the electronic coding of this information….Our division at the TDSB has a customer service approach that allows any principal or facility supervisor to contact either the skilled trades department or management or both with complaints about work, costs and billing. We will follow up and correct errors. We learn from them, try to find the cause and correct it.”

This isn’t the stuff, of course, of anti-union media soundbites. There may still be something to the other complaints—and there may not be. But the Star reporting is rather obviously biased. The text is accompanied throughout by ominous background music—intimidation and extortion are suggested, but never quite alleged. And of course, Brother Hazel is referred to as a “union boss,” that oxymoronic status assigned to democratically elected and accountable leaders by the anti-union crowd.

Enter Andrew Coyne, hard on the heels of Tim Hudak. [cont’d.]

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This page contains a single entry by John Baglow published on June 28, 2012 3:22 PM.

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