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What Do City Workers’ Unions Mean When They Talk About “Job Security”?

A stab at translating a particularly prevalent bit of labour-dispute jargon.

Striking library workers rally in front of City Hall on March 18.

A critical issue in the City’s contract negotiations with its unions this year has been what union spokespeople and reporters like to call “job security,” and what City spokespeople like to call “jobs for life.”

With CUPE Local 4948, the union that represents Toronto Public Library workers, still picketing after more than a week, and CUPE Local 79, the union that represents the City’s indoor workers, teetering on the edge of a labour disruption pending a vote on a contentious new contract this Wednesday, these catchphrases are vitally important, not only to the workers but to everyone who relies on the services they provide.

So what, exactly, do they mean?

Protection from layoffs.

One misleading thing about terms like “job security” and “jobs for life” is that they imply that union members can’t lose their jobs. That’s not exactly true. City workers aren’t protected from being fired with cause, but they do have some fairly strong protections against layoffs—protections that the City has been trying to scale back, in an attempt to save money.

CUPE Local 4948 has the strongest layoff protection of the three municipal unions that have been at the bargaining table this year. Here’s an excerpt from the Local 4948 Collective Agreement, Article 18, Section 1:

(i) There shall be no layoffs of full-time and part-time staff for the term of the Collective Agreement.

(ii) Any reduction of days or hours of work shall be deemed a layoff.

That means no layoffs or hours reductions for permanent employees under any circumstances—which, again, is an exceptionally stringent protection even by the standards of other City unions.

We don’t know exactly what’s being discussed at the bargaining table, but judging by what City spokespeople have been telling the media, it’s a good bet that Toronto Public Library’s negotiators are trying to modify that section of the Local 4948 contract somehow, possibly by making it so that those layoff protections are enjoyed only by employees with a certain number of years of seniority.

The City achieved something like that with CUPE Local 416, the union that represents the City’s outdoor workers, earlier this year. That union’s previous contract banned layoffs of permanent employees because of contracting out. Under the new contract, the ban applies only to permanent employees with fifteen or more years of seniority. The City is seeking a similar deal from Local 79, whose now-expired contract also bans layoffs of permanent employees because of contracting out.


Another important aspect of job security for the City’s unions is what’s known as “redeployment.” Redeployment is what happens when workers do, for whatever reason, lose their jobs, either as a result of layoffs or as a result of organizational restructuring.

Under the terms of their agreements with Locals 416, 4948, and the full-time unit of 79, the City and Toronto Public Library can’t just reassign or get rid of whomever it wants to. Redeployment makes it so that the latest employees to have been hired are the first ones to be let go. Imagine a Pez dispenser full of pink slips, arranged so that the ones belonging to the most recent employees are at the top, and the ones belonging to the most senior are at the bottom.

The mechanisms by which this process works are unbelievably complicated and bureaucratic, but basically, whenever an employee’s job is deleted, he or she can elect to take another job in the organization.

So, say employee number one loses his or her job. If there’s a vacant position that’s pretty similar to employee number one’s existing job, he or she can take it. But if there’s no vacant position, then employee number one can take over the job of another employee with less seniority, whom we’ll call employee number two.

Employee number two loses their job to employee number one, but employee number two is then entitled to redeployment as well. And so is employee number three, and so is employee number four, and so on. It ends only when everyone is settled, and the least senior workers have been let go. There are wage protections in place that make it hard for management to use this as a way of shuffling senior staff into low-paying positions. An exception to this way of doing things happens in cases where senior employees leave of their own volition. The City and Toronto Public Library have both used cash incentives to make that happen in recent months, as part of so-called “voluntary separation programs.”

There are restrictions on who can be redeployed into what job (employees have to have the ability to perform their new work, for example). Even so, the City has claimed that the process takes too long, and is costly. One of the concessions City negotiators won from Local 416 was a streamlined redeployment process that the City says will reduce the amount of time it takes to find a new position for an employee from 320 days to 80. It’s a good bet that City negotiators are seeking similar deals from the other unions.

We won’t know how job security for Locals 79 and 4948 will fare until negotiations are done. But given the Ford administration’s hard line on spending, it’s likely that both unions will need to make concessions.

CORRECTION: 12:50 PM This post originally implied that CUPE Local 4948 negotiates with the City. In fact, they bargain with the Toronto Public Library Board. The text has been amended accordingly.


  • Anonymous

    “That union’s previous contract banned layoffs of permanent employees due to contracting out”
    I think you mean “… because of contracting out”.

    • Torontoist

      Thanks for the catch! We’ve corrected the instances in the article above.

  • Michelle

    I have a hard time understanding what is so special about being a librarian or other inside worker that would necessitate such rigorous protections of seniority, rather than hiring/firing on merit.

  • Vidar Hansen

    1) the fact that the city management had to ask the unions for schedule change —- that doesn’t really happen in the private world.

    2) “That means no layoffs or hours reductions for permanent employees under any circumstances” —- excuse me? during financial troubling times, people do get layed off. Hours being reduced is normal in the private sector. You don’t always get the same hours as last week/moth/etc…

    3) Redeployment —- Let’s use Tim Hortons…Union member is a cashier…a cashier at the Tim Hortons on Queen and Bay (south side of Queen) will do the same job and tasks as a Tim Hortons cashier in North York…Management should be allowed to move cashiers around Tim Hortons.

    4) Job Security —- Guess what? I worked at McDonalds, Burger King AND Wendy’s (not at the same time). We won’t always need the same amount of Library staff, aren’t we getting those automatic check out counters anyways? Do like everyone else does when they get fired/laid off: THEY GET ANOTHER JOB.

    • Cyril Sneer

      I hardly think fast food joints represent the kind of work environments we should be striving to emulate.

      • geomo

        Let along the tired trope that working people need to live “within their means” while we watch the wealthy become exceedingly more wealthy. Everyone do more with less, except the wealthy…?

        • Anonymous

          … who do less with more!

    • Margarets

      Actually a cell phone and *good* internet access are so important to job searches and education these days that they qualify as necessities in my book.

      Clearly one can’t always go to the library for access. Libraries aren’t open 24/7. And for the last week or so, haven’t been open at all.

    • Testu

      This doesn’t have to be a race to the bottom. Working for less because you’re desperate hurts everyone in your field, it’s a vicious cycle.

      Part of the reason many fast food and retail jobs are so unpleasant is because the business owners can keep wages low by only hiring workers part time. No one except managers make a decent wage because the turnover is so high, workers aren’t there long enough to receive very many raises.

      The reason these unions exist is to prevent the employers from exploiting things like outsourcing and contract workers to artificially depress wages and benefits. Just because someone is willing to do it for less doesn’t mean they should. If you are stuck working multiple jobs or are barely making enough to survive perhaps you should consider organizing with your fellow employees.

    • Anonymous

      “52% of TTC employees, 75% of TPS employees live outside city. They could get jobs where they live (local jobs).”
      I have never met anyone who works in Toronto and lives outside who wouldn’t prefer a job closer to where they live. Not everyone can choose to work in the suburbs.

    • John

      Why so angry? Conditions for union workers should apply to private sector too, not the other way around. That’s how precedent was set before. Union demands created the weekend. The private sector had to follow suit. Workers rights are for all of us.

    • Sardough

      they are getting self checkout…you pay for service and you have to serve yourself…sooo explain to me one thing…i really don’t care if libraries want to cut back…i just have a problem on why i pay taxes to the library when I have to serve myself at a automated machine…

  • geomo

    They are still hired and fired on merit, the agreement simply acknowledges that a permanent employee in that bargaining group can accept a similar position if their job is eliminated for a very specific reason. You can be fired for cause, you are not guaranteed a new job if you are not qualified for it. What you describe is the exaggerated and dishonest mainstream media depiction of “jobs for life” which is far from the truth.

  • PSC-TO

    Probably just semantics, but when you say “So, say employee number one loses his or her job” what you reall mean is that employee one’s job has been taken from them.

    It could be that the City has eliminated the job or someone more senior bumped them – but the employee had nothing, really, to do with the job not being theirs anymore. They didn’t *lose* it.

    As you pointed out, the City has the ability to dismiss with cause. Hell, they have the ability to dismiss without cause, it just costs more.

    The reason these protections are in place are to protect workers from capricous dismissal without cause and without compensation.

    • Testu

      It’s not really just semantics though. There is a lot of anti-union sentiment these days and much of it stems from this image of lazy, incompetent workers living it up on the public dime.

      Saying that they’ve “lost” their jobs makes it sound like it’s the worker’s fault and that these provisions are protecting people who would otherwise be fired. It feeds into the lazy union worker narrative perfectly.

  • Paul

    A friend of mine is a manager with the city. He has an employee with personal issues and he is barely getting any work out of her. He tried talking to her with no effect and brought in the union who didnt help change the situation. So he has to have his other employees make up the work she isnt doing. This has been going on for several years.

    This is too strong protection by the unions.

    • Geomo

      So because of this anecdotal and isolated incident you think all unionized workers receive too much protection? Sounds like the logic of City Hall right now, because job security and protection are completely unreasonable right?

      • Paul

        My first job was with the provincial government. My experience there to my knowledge, in a very junior role, not this kevel of abuse however it took a very long time to get things accomplished.

        In these types of environments when you take away the possibility of being dismissed productivity seemed to be deminished.

        In my example above is it fair to this person’s coworkers?