Tag Archives: Toronto Star

Avoiding the shaft: no concessions for young workers

5 Jun

Screen shot 2013-06-05 at 5.47.29 PMA couple of years ago, I was talking to a friend of mine; a department chair at a program at Ryerson.

I was telling him that my partner started teaching at Ryerson, in another faculty, and was being paid about $5000 for the course. This was to cover four months of weekly three hour classes, six hours of prep time per class, office hours, a month of exam re-scheduling (and re-re-scheduling), assignment marking and invigilation. The class wasn’t too big, just 30 students, but we had calculated that he was getting ripped off. Ryerson, of course, was getting a deal.

He was a unionized member of CUPE 3904. His work undercut the necessity of hiring new professors. If a full semester of classes (5) cost Ryerson $25,000 to offer, and an awful job market was forcing PhDs to take these exploitative positions, Ryerson had no reason to actually hire a professor who would cost a great deal more to the university at at least $75,000.

Years and years of this kind of logic and these trade-offs, aided by the government’s preference to fund scandals over higher education, has created this large underclass of workers at Ontario’s colleges and universities. The Toronto Star reported that it was partly the fault of this sector that half of GTA workers are in precarious work in a study undertaken earlier this year.

My friend told me that this reality was, in part, the fault of the professors themselves. Rather than going on strike to reject these concessions, albeit in a different union and bargaining unit, professors would take what they could, bargain their own contracts and maybe offer support where they could. And really, can you blame them? They’re under extreme, albeit different stress too. “Unless we shut down this place, they’ll keep relying on sessionals” he told me. “And you know how likely it is that we’ll shut this place down.”

I thought about this story when I saw that the Toronto Star union had negotiated a way to keep the radio room, the place where many young journalists get their start, by agreeing to a 32 per cent pay cut. The radio room is where journalists listen to the police scanner and follow the cops to then report the news. Lots of stories about crime and other Toronto-based news originate from here.

I took to Twitter to express how I didn’t think this was at all a victory. I was quickly scorned by someone who saw this as good enough: the radio room has been saved, young people will have jobs and really, what other choice could there have been?

Sure, I don’t know what the negotiations were like. I do know that the radio room costs $250,000 to operate, according to the J-Source article linked above, and that if all that money goes to salaries (which is unlikely, as there must be some equipment and other costs rolled into this amount), the new contract will save TorStar Corporation $80,000. To put this into perspective, here’s how the Corporation did during the first quarter of 2013:

“Total Segmented Revenue was $332.4 million in the first quarter of 2013, down $18.4 million from $350.8 million in the first quarter of 2012.”
This amount would also, roughly, be recovered by the sale of four, 4-page insert ads, distributed on four Saturdays over the course of a year, according to the Toronto Star’s rate card.

The Star, while still making a profit, made less of a profit in the first quarter of 2013. But is this smaller profit enough to justify outsourcing the radio room? No. Just like how $80,000 isn’t going to boost the shares back up the few cents that they fell during that quarter.

Of course, it’s not just the Toronto Star or the higher education sector where this is happening. CAW’s 2012 agreement with the “big three” automakers for example also deepened wage segmentation between new and old workers.

The trend to level concessions on the backs of younger workers deeply troubles me. I’m currently writing a book that makes the argument that this tactic used by corporations, and unfortunately agreed to by many unions, is going to be what eventually destroys (or addressing it head on to save) the labour movement.

Younger workers have never had it so hard in post-war Canada. With record-high unemployment levels, record-high student debt, the outrageous proliferation of unpaid internships and the reliance on temporary foreign workers as a way to boost corporations’ bottom lines, young workers are in a rough spot. What’s worse, their interests are often posited against the interest of older workers in negotiations and the young ones often lose.

Older workers don’t have it that easy these days either but they’ll still, at least, be able to retire at 65. Who knows how long into the winters of our lives we’ll be forced to work?

The effects that such cuts have on young people are obvious. What should concern older union activists, though, is the effect it will have on the labour movement in general.

If your first interaction with your union sees your wages slashed, benefits cut and your job made precarious to be able to preserve the wages and benefits of an older worker, no commitment to solidarity, in principle, is enough to convince the masses that this is a structure that works.

Older union activists need to be worried about the message that these concessions send to young people: while it’s true that many young people are happy enough just to have a paying job, this sentiment is not enough to extend support to the role that unions play more generally. If the labour movement is going to survive, it needs to build its support broadly.

This is why unions must use the collective force of their workers to refuse concession contracts for young or new workers. Just like workers at CUPW, who refused to accept concession contracts for new workers and who were eventually locked out by the corporation, all unions should be prepared for the messy and difficult battles of saving all good jobs.

Corporations know that this divide-and-conquer tactic works and they’ll use it every single time that they can. If the only way to resist it is to refuse to be divided, the path toward our collective victories should be pretty obvious.

Building broad support for the labour movement won’t be possible if our backs are the sites on which negotiations are played.

Is your union going above and beyond to protect the rights of young or new workers? Share the story with me, I’d love to hear it!

Photo taken from libcom.org

MUHC, ORNGE and the banality of corruption

1 Mar

Arthur Porter and Stephen Harper celebrate Montreal’s newest hospital. This is a photo of a photo that appeared in the Globe and Mail, late 2012.

Whenever the snow starts to melt, I notice smells re-emerge that I had forgotten about, like of the wood of my hallways or of the White Birch paper plant.

Normally, the stench of corruption isn’t hidden by the whims of catastrophic climate chaos. But in the case of the SNC Lavalin saga, have been relatively quiet throughout winter’s freeze. Until the snow started to melt.

Based in Montreal, SNC Lavalin is an engineering firm that has projects around the world. When Wikileaks released its diplomatic cables, one of the few Canadian mentions in the documents was SNC Lavalin’s contract to build prisons in Libya. But, good news: they also build stadiums and hospitals in Canada.

Ex-CEO of SNC Lavalin Pierre Duhaime has been twice charged for corruption, most recently this week. The charges apparently stem from SNC Lavalin having been awarded a contract for the construction of a hospital in Montreal in 2010. SNC Lavalin’s former head of construction, Riadh Ben Aissa, is also facing charges and is in custody in Switzerland.

At issue is $56 million in missing funds. After an internal investigation found this, Duhaime resigned from the CEO position in early 2012.

The recent charges against Duhaime were also brought against others involved in the hospital’s construction. Arthur Porter, former CEO of the McGill University Health Centre, was charged for actions that related to the construction of the new hospital in Montreal. Yanai Elbaz, the MUHC’s director of redevelopment, was charged too. The charges include accepting bribes, conspiracy and committing fraud against the government.

Porter is a friend of Stephen Harper’s and was recruited by the MUHC board to move the project along.

He was twice-appointed to the Security Intelligence Review Committee, including as its head, an organization that Tom Mulcair called yesterday “…what is essentially Canada’s CIA.” Now wanted for fraud, he used to chair the committee that oversees CSIS.

Porter is currently in the Bahamas and, apparently, is too sick to travel to face these charges.

With Québec’s Charbonneau Commission taking most of corruption-related headlines, these new charges are a helpful reminder that corruption in our system is rampant. Taken together, these examples are evidence that corruption touches all levels of government, including the leaders’ offices of the City of Montreal, the Province of Québec and the Government of Canada.

Makes you feel really great about doing your best to be honest when handling money, doesn’t it?

The most important part of these stories of corruption, and the McGill University Health Centre in particular, is that its wrapped up in two of the Ministries where the largest sums of money are doled out: education and health care.

Somehow, these folks found a way to skim off tens of millions of dollars for themselves in the construction of a university hospital: a place where babies are born and children and adults die. A place fundamental to the health, well-being or end of all of our lives. A place where students will learn how to care for others, find ways to extend humans’ lives and practice the art of medicine.

Indeed, nothing is sacred.

Québec isn’t the only province with corruption problems.

When you consider that E-Health cost $1 billion in Ontario yet produced nothing, and that the Air Ambulance (ORNGE) scandal also bled millions from Ontarians’ health ministry, corruption starts to look like part of the system rather than an anomaly.

Throughout the ORNGE developments, Chris Mazza has been the fall guy. Mazza has been painted as the scheming mastermind behind the scandal; an isolated incident that implicated a single, greedy man.

Surely, Mazza didn’t act alone but the scandal hasn’t taken down too many outside of the ORNGE inner circle until this week. ORNGE’s latest victim is actually Mount Sinai hospital’s top doctor. On Feb. 28, the Star reported that Tom Stewart, the physician-in-chief and the director of the medical/surgical intensive care unit at Mount Sinai resigned after the completion of a damming report.

The hospital’s report showed that Stewart and Mazza were friends and helped each other out. ORNGE paid Stewart $436,000 to advise Mazza and Mount Sinai paid Mazza $256,000 without evidence that he completed the work required for such a sum.  This is on top of their salaries, which the Star reports were $1.9 million at ORNGE for Mazza and $607,000 for Stewart in 2011.

But don’t worry. Stewart’s resignation does not mean he loses his job as a doctor at the hospital. He gets to keep that.

Writing this has made me both sick and totally angry. Corruption will occur if people aren’t paying attention and Canadians suffer from wide-spread disenfranchisement. But what do you do when the politicians who are elected to pay attention either aid or ignore corruption when it surfaces?

Aside from having anti-corruption task forces in every government ministry and creating a standing committee on corruption to catch corruption after the fact, I’m not sure there’s much the system can do to stop it. That’s partly because I’m convinced corruption is possible not because someone isn’t paying enough attention to it, but because our political and economic system depend on it.

When money disappears, the argument that “we can’t afford” something becomes true: missing money is money that cannot be spent elsewhere. Corruption not only aides austerity, but it makes austerity necessary, just like low corporate taxes and an increase in paying for private contracts to administer public services.

Fortunately, corruption is still a bad word to most Canadians. If the NDP or the Ontario NDP were looking for a quick way to boost their support, they should promise to immediately instate anti-corruption taskforces. After all, federally, they have 146 of years of government to examine and their hands will stay clean.

But to truly stop this kind of corruption, we need to connect the dots between who is scratching who’s back and realize that citizens all small players in a larger scheme that makes corruption not only possible, but normal. It’s just how capitalism goes.

If the system is rotten from the inside out, painting its exterior is not going to fix anything.


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“I do not see you as predatory” politics of statuatory rape and the Toronto Star

17 Sep

Apparently no sex needs to be alleged for one to endure a “sex trial” (from the Toronto Star online)

The Toronto Star loves writing about teachers behaving badly.

During my time at the CFS, every time a “teacher scandal” hit the Toronto Star, a coworker of mine would always call me into his office to read the latest scandal together. It would be regular: a few times a month. Each time I’d think “Man, the Toronto Star hates teachers.”

Part of that is that I come from a family of teachers. We read the blue pages aloud. We debate the details (and unknown details) when we have the chance. Throw in some administrators and union reps among my aunts and uncles and you have a recipe for many an entertaining night.

Recently I’ve been unsettled by the relentless coverage of the case of Mary Gowans.

Gowans clearly overstepped boundaries in a relationship she had with a former student. Upon graduating Grade 8, the pair became questionably close. A judge is determining just how close, as Gowans faces a maximum 10-year sentence for sexual interference.

She had a relationship with this student. He babysat her kids, volunteered with her and exchanged up to 2000 texts with her over a few years. Their relationship ended when the former student (a strapping young lad by accounts from the Star and Rosie DiManno) touched her and she (uncomfortable with how far it had gone) ended their “relationship.” He told his mother and charges were pressed. A judge is determining if a legal line was crossed.

While reading the seemingly endless stories coming from the Toronto Star, I’ve felt uneasy. Yes, Gowans crossed a line. But why is she getting this level of attention from the mainstream press? Are all adults implicated in inappropriate relations with children held to the same standard?

Then I’m stuck with the story of Officer Curtis Borel. About the same age as Gowans, he was convicted of the charge that Gowans is being tried for: sexual interference. But, where Gowans’ version of sexual interference was horseplay and a questionable multi-year relationship where they may or may not have kissed, Borel admitted to raping a 15-year-old girl.

He was handed a 20-day sentence, served on weekends, and probation.

Now, I’m not an advocate that anyone should be in jail. With folks remaining in jail for organizing around the G20 who have all served more than a 20-day sentence (and who, none of them, were convicted of raping children), I see jail as the least effective way possible of dealing with people who “break the law.” So, this is not an advocacy piece for jail.

No. This is an advocacy piece for fairness.

Borel was sentenced at the beginning of August. Despite this, I can’t find any record of his case being covered by the Toronto Star. (To check, I Googled my name and Toronto Star and many hits over the past year surfaced. Hardly scientific, but helpful nonetheless).

This story isn’t complete as we don’t know the outcome of Gowans’ trial. However, to read the Toronto Star’s coverage paints the picture of a desperate woman who gambled her family and husband on a kid. Her life is ruined.

No doubt Borel’s is ruined too. But there’s a difference between Borel and Gowans’. She never had sex with her former student. Borel met his victim at a “party house” and articles about her paint her as reluctant, unsure and having had sex with him consensually…. as if a 15-year-old can consent to sex with a 39-year-old.

So, I remain torn. Is it the fact that Gowans is a teacher in Toronto, and Borel was a cop outside of the GTA that has changed the level of coverage? Doubt is, as the Toronto Sun covered the trial. Is it the fact that Gowan’s transgression is worse than Borel’s? No… Is a teacher subject to greater scrutiny than police… seemingly yes, in this case.

But, I also can’t shake out of my head that this has more to do with the fact that Gowans is a woman. The boy with whom she had a relationship is, despite being a boy and the victim, consistently described by his manliness: his athleticism, his height, his apparent strength. Gowans is painted both as a predator and a victim. Indeed, when you read through the “alleges” she comes off as a victim.

In Borel’s case, the victim is clearly a victim, but her hesitancy builds a narrative that Borel, who was in personal trouble, just decided to have consensual sex with…oops…. someone who turned out to be 15. It’s Trainspotting all over again (with a 10-year age difference turned into a 29 year age difference…). And, in the end, he (legally) got off pretty light. (no doubt that his life is otherwise ruined).

So, I’ll have to wait until the verdict in Gowans’ trial to make a better comparison.

But the questions still remain: what is with the Toronto Star’s obsession with teachers?

There are bad people doing their jobs poorly everywhere. The difference here is this: Gowans was, despite her transgressions, a highly popular teacher in her school. This builds a delightful, and easy narrative.

We have no idea what kind of cop Borel was…the newspaper coverage didn’t dredge up that kind of information.

But to me, this is a story of a one-way mirror.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a similar record of journalists who do their jobs poorly as we do teachers (or even cops). But journalists who write about these trials do so as if they exist in a vacuum. This does more damage than good both to the victim, the perpetrator and to the community at large.

It’s no secret that teachers having sex ignites the online world like little else (other than cute cat pictures): take a quick look around Fark and this is obvious.

However, mainstream papers have a duty to be consistent in their coverage. Stop with the public crucifixions of people (teachers, especially). Or, if you’re going to treat a Mary Gowans in this way, you better spend the same amount of resources (and Rosie DiMannos) on the Curtis Borels of the world.

So, with more questions than answers, I’m left with a simple piece of advice to the editors out there:

Journalists should  keep in mind that theirs is a distorted lens. They are not under the same scrutiny that they dish out and this gives them power. For example, no way would I write about the gross, lecherous behavior I’ve seen or have heard of undertaken by journalists (conferences are great for watching this), but I’ve heard and seen it happen. I’m unaware of anything to the extent of Gowans and Borels, but, just because no one’s writing about your sexcapades doesn’t give you a green light to destroy the lives of others.

Journalists: please, please please: use caution and keep your humanity as you yield your keyboards.