The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) are scrambling to balance budgets and find ways to save money. One of the major topics of discussion at a recent board meeting was the board’s relationship with a union representing maintenance and construction workers. The union is facing allegations of overcharging for routine maintenance. So far, there’s been a lot of finger pointing from both sides. The board’s director of education, Dr. Chris Spence, expressed concerns that the schools have been over-charged by union workers for more than a decade. On the other hand, union president Jimmy Hazel, is defending his workers, and claims that the problem lies with insufficient management of the budget.
Dr. Spence assured board members that the allegations of over-charging will be strongly considered during contract renegotiations, but stressed that it was “too early” to discuss rejecting a new contract entirely. “I don’t know for sure if we have a firm understanding of [the problem],” he explained. TDBS is already responsible for the oversight of about 190 thousand work orders each year, and there are a lot of benefits the board enjoys by allowing the union to organize 900 of their employees. If the board didn’t renew their union contract, under provincial law, they would have to establish 20 different agreements with all the individual trade unions within the board.
Another suggestion came from staff regarding how to better oversee the work orders, which involved GPS tracking devices. The GPS tracking devices would be installed on all construction and maintenance vehicles, including plumbers, electricians, and other skilled workers. This technology could help reduce fuel costs and improve organization of workers. Installing the GPS tracking devices would cost TDSB an estimated $300,000 per year, however, so the savings would have to be pretty solid to get the plan approved. Many remain skeptical, and fear the the board may be missing the point. “The real problem is the stronghold the union has on our costing,” said Josie Daga, parent of two children attending TDSB schools. “Until we open these jobs up for competitive bidding, then we’re not going to solve this problem.”