The human cost of contracting-out
Back in the spring when I was first asked to blog for My City, Your City, I wrote about what I love about Toronto: the incredible diversity, the parks and tree-lined streets, Kensington Market, the arts community, the squash and beans growing in our neighbours’ front garden, and the smell of grilled sardines wafting through Little Portugal on sunny afternoons. And so now, when I look at our options for mayor and hear the call to "vote with your head, not your heart” … well, I think a lot about the real basics.
I think about contracting-out, one of the major planks in the platforms of the two front-runners and what it stays about their vision of Toronto. Now, I get that when people hear “contracting out," many think: “Ah, this is going to save me money”. Instead, I fear we are being asked to be penny wise but pound foolish.
Contracting-out for me means the loss of decent jobs and with them the human diversity that makes Toronto great. Sure there could be new jobs in the private sector. After all, someone has to collect our garbage and drive our streetcars.
But the bar will be lowered, and that’s bad for all of us. How many of these lower-paid workers will be able to afford to live in the City they serve?
Here’s the thing: if you are a city worker in Toronto you generally earn a decent, middle-class kind of income. It’s enough to get by… It’s a good quality of life. Vacation time to spend with the kids and grandkids. Benefits that ensure folks have access to medication when they are sick without having to go into debt. A measure of retirement security. This is what most of us want for ourselves and our kids.
These are not million-dollar CEO jobs or E-Health-consultant-paying-jobs. No, we’re talking about garbage collectors and streetcar drivers. These are not people living high off the hog. But they are making decent wages, and we should all aspire to have that, to ensure that our neighbours have that.
That the assault on city workers comes so soon after financiers pushed the world economy over a cliff, boggles the mind.
So when I hear "contract out," I think of the loss of family income, health and security and what that will mean to our city. I think of how much less money will be spent by those workers at the shops in their neighbourhoods, and what that will mean. I think of how much harder it will be for everyone to go and ask for a raise in keeping with the increased cost of living or an extra vacation day, if we keep driving the bar down further and further.
That’s not a vision of Toronto that I share – and I suspect the supposed popular outrage won’t sustain a city or a city government for very long. The front runners should reflect on the old adage, "you can build a throne of bayonets, but you can’t sit on it.”