Metro Morning

On eve of labour vote, union member laments future for young city workers

For many of the daycare workers, planners, shelter nurses, cleaners and others, the issue of stable work will continue beyond these labour negotiations.

Rob Carnell fears for younger people amid contract ratification

CUPE Local 79's Rob Carnell worries about young city workers, even as the new labour deal goes to a ratification vote.

The 23,000 members of CUPE Local 79 will vote on the deal their union negotiated with the city on Wednesday.

But for many of the daycare workers, planners, shelter nurses, cleaners and others, the issue of stable work will continue beyond these labour negotiations.

The head of the union representing City of Toronto inside workers says the tentative four-year deal is "the best we could get under the circumstances."

For cleaner Rob Carnell, there are some issues — around precarious work, contracting out of jobs and unpredictable schedules that make it hard to plan for their future —  that are too hard to ignore.
A stack of ratification documents awaiting distribution at offices of CUPE Local 79. (Mary Wiens/CBC)

Carnell went from a job in manufacturing to a cleaning job with the city, trying to keep afloat in a changing economy.

He notices the labour problems in his work. "You look in the corner, and you go, Oh my god, we haven't been there for a week," he said of cleaning city buildings. "That's because we don't have anyone to get there."

Similarities to manufacturing

Carnell used to be a plant manager for Kawneer, a company he started working for right out of high school in 1979. At its peak, the aluminum manufacturer employed 240 people at its plant in Scarborough at Midland and Ellesmere.

Now condos have sprung up where the plant used to stand.  After 100 years, the factory had become yet another victim of Ontario's vanishing manufacturing sector.

"I was responsible for $4-million a month in billing. So lots of pressure, lots of people to manage, lots of different personalities," he said. "In the early years Kawneer was a good company to work for."

But by 2008, the markets were collapsing.  Rob could see the writing on the wall.  He took a buyout from Kawneer. In his late 40s, he was too young to retire, but too old to expect to reach the same level in a new career. 

Besides, he was looking forward to grandchildren, and ready for a change of pace.  

"I just wanted to enjoy the last eight years, go and do my job, and go home," he told Metro Morning.

At the beginning Carnell's work was straightforward: cleaning police stations for the city. He was making about two-thirds of what he'd earned as a plant manager. But the job was steady, eight hours a day, five days a week. Classified as temporary full-time, one notch below permanent.

You can't grow a city if people can't get a stable job. It has to change.- Rob Carnell, CUPE Local 79

But just like the province's manufacturers, the city too wants to outsource more. Starting in 2012, the city began contracting out the cleaning of police stations. The city's offer to cleaners was to take a lay-off and wait for a full-time job to come along. Or come back as temporary or casual.

Like most of his fellow cleaners, Carnell came back to fewer guaranteed hours.

It was then that he joined the union fight to claw back some hours lost to outsourcing. He said he kept hearing the same kind of story: a young colleague, trying to raise a family, not knowing how many hours each week he or she would be working.

"How does he raise his kids?  How does he get it done?" asked Carnell.

He'd been a shop steward at the aluminum plant before becoming plant manager. Then he became a kind of shop steward again for CUPE.

"I care about people," he said. "These are people trying to get the city going, buying homes, getting away from mom and dad. But they can't do it."

The next generation

Carnell's daughter works three jobs to make ends meet. Carnell himself no longer knows what his pension will be by the time he retires.

"Well, I have three daughters and soon to be three granddaughters coming," he said. "I think people have to realize what it's doing to young people  They can't afford to get a home. They're all living at home.  You're trying to grow a city and you can't grow a city if people can't get a stable job. It has to change."

Carnell's been away from his cleaning job since October, working on the CUPE bargaining team. While he was working there, the remaining full-time workers cleaning police stations had their hours cut again.


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