Editorial: Public workers should heed climate of restraint

As Wisconsin’s governor continued his massive and unfair assault on workers’ rights last week, Toronto Hydro Corp. launched a lawsuit to fight back against attempts to rein in compensation for its executives.

The dispute here centres on a cap the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System has placed on pension benefits. It would limit the extent to which bonuses count in calculating pension payments.

For executives who receive a large part of their compensation in bonuses, the move would restrain future pension payments.

Toronto Hydro disagrees and, according to the Toronto Star, says the OMERS decision runs counter to its preference of rewarding executives through a bonus based on performance. It’s a fair argument to make, but during an era of public restraint, it’s not the time to be making that case.

It’s interesting that the issue arises just as the Toronto Community Housing Corp. came under heavy criticism over a spending scandal. In 2008, former CEO Derek Ballantyne, who ran the housing agency during the period when many of the problems happened, earned $222,000 plus $9,000 in bonuses.

Ballantyne may have done a good job in many respects, but it’s clear that there were serious problems. So do we really have to pay people big money - and roughly $230,000 to run a public-housing agency certainly is generous compensation - to get good results?

The scandal, along with similar financial issues at other high-paying public bodies like eHealth Ontario, shows that’s not always the case.

As a result, the Canadian Union of Public Employees was right to come out against the Toronto Hydro lawsuit last week. Calling it “an outrageous attack on the pensions of hard-working Ontarians,” CUPE Ontario said its members don’t want the money they contribute to OMERS going to executive pensions based on “massive corporate bonuses.”

It noted as well that the average pension for a CUPE retiree from the OMERS plan is $14,000 a year. That’s not a lot of money and certainly not excessive in any way.

Nevertheless, public-sector unions in Ontario would do well to take note of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s bid to dramatically scale back the rights of state workers.

While Walker has gone too far in his efforts to restrain spending, public-sector unions in general do themselves no favours when they fight back against attempts to limit benefits that governments can no longer afford.

That was clearly the case during the recent municipal strike in Toronto when city workers walked off the job in part in order to retain an excessive sick bank.

Certainly, underpaid workers - as is arguably the case with Quebec Crown prosecutors - deserve fair pay. But demanding too much, whether employees are executives or average workers, only brings aggressive cost-cutters like Walker and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford to power.

With massive budget deficits, taxpayers, many of whom work in the private sector, can’t afford to fund benefits they themselves don’t get.
- Glenn Kauth

Free newsletter

Our newsletter is FREE and keeps you up to date on all the developments in the Ontario legal community. Please enter your email address below to subscribe.

Recent articles & video

Judicial vacancies holding up construction litigation, say lawyers

With new federal funding Pro Bono Ontario expanding program for Ukrainian nationals across Canada

Ontario Court of Appeal resolves access rights between parents and maternal grandparents

Ontario Court of Appeal upholds dismissal of statute-barred personal injury claim

Ontario Superior Court rules on admissibility of jury questions in vehicle accident case

Good relationship with accused doesn't aid reliability of sexual-assault complainant's memory: Court

Most Read Articles

Good relationship with accused doesn't aid reliability of sexual-assault complainant's memory: Court

Lincoln Alexander School of Law appoints Jake Okechukwu Effoduh as assistant professor

Ontario Court of Appeal resolves access rights between parents and maternal grandparents

With new federal funding Pro Bono Ontario expanding program for Ukrainian nationals across Canada