New position created by library board while frontline workers face potential job layoffs

creynolds Collective Bargaining, News Release

The executive of CUPE Local 2329 are outraged that, one day after the release of the provincial budget, the Provincial Information and Library Resources Board (PILRB) has created a new, non-union position in the St. John’s libraries system, while the future of public libraries remains uncertain.

Yesterday, Minister of Finance Cathy Bennett announced that the operating grant was restored to the PILRB until the province completes their review of the provincial public libraries.

“At a time when our entire library system is hanging in the balance, waiting for the results of the review, this seems like a slap in the face to the bargaining unit members who may lose their jobs at the end of the process,” says Dawn Lahey, president of CUPE 2329.

“This money could be better used to improve library services to the public, not to create another behind-the-scenes position that will do nothing to maintain library services in our communities,” says Lahey.​

Posted by the Board on April 7, 2017, the new position is for a Librarian IIB, working at the A.C. Hunter, Marjorie Mews, Michael Donovan libraries in the St. John’s region.

According to the posting, the position will be responsible for implementing policies and procedures; aiding in staff selection, mentoring and training; promotion of library materials, programs and services; community outreach and other duties – already performed by librarians currently on staff.

Frontline library workers, members of CUPE 2329, would like answers from the Minister of Finance and the library board.

CUPE represents library workers across the province, including those who work at the 54 libraries facing threats of closure. If the closures go ahead, 61 members of CUPE 2329 will lose their jobs.

Future of public libraries remains uncertain

creynolds Economy, News Release

No hope was offered to public library workers in the provincial budget announced today by Newfoundland and Labrador Finance Minister Cathy Bennett. Workers anticipated a definitive answer on what the province intends to do with the 54 libraries slated to be closed – or if they will continue to have a job. Those questions remain unanswered.

CUPE has been calling on the province to reverse the decision to close 54 of the province’s 95 public libraries and restore funding at least to 2011 levels.

In the 2017 budget, the operating grant was restored to the Provincial Information and Library Resources Board, bringing the funding level to $10.7 million, however this is a temporary measure and less than 2011 levels.

“Why does the province want to delay their decision at all?” asks Dawn Learning, CUPE national representative. “The people in these communities have clearly spoken about what they need. They want to keep their public libraries.”

“The new budget doesn’t do anything it should do to stabilize the economy,” says Wayne Lucas, CUPE NL president. “And it does not address any of the damage done by last year’s budget.”

“All economic indicators are still pointing to challenging times for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in terms of job certainty, the unemployment crisis, being able to pay the bills, quality of life, and the security needed to build a future here.”

Submission to the NL Minister of Finance Pre-Budget Consultation

creynolds Article, Economy, issues

In the Pre-Budget Discussion Guide, the Minister of Finance asks submissions to focus on aspects of the government’s economic plan outlined in The Way Forward.

CUPE Newfoundland Labrador, along with the Common Front NL, has communicated strong opposition to the economic direction government is currently pursuing.

CUPE has made clear in meetings with the Minister of Finance and in various briefs and submissions that a recession is not the time to be focused on balancing the budget and cutting jobs. Government has options to raise revenues to both address the deficit in a reasonable timeframe and invest to stimulate economic growth in the short term. To reiterate, public services deliver terrific value to families and communities as well as stimulus to local economies.

Furthermore, CUPE Newfoundland Labrador urges the Minister of Finance to change policy direction on two important public services: the slated closures of provincial public libraries and use of the P3 model for the acute care hospital and long term care facility in Corner Brook.


The proposed closing of 54 of the province’s 95 libraries (57%) represents a serious loss of value to the communities affected and to the economy of Newfoundland Labrador. If these closures go ahead, more than 60 members of CUPE Local 2329 will lose their jobs. The majority of those who will find themselves out of work are women who work part-time in rural communities.

CUPE is disappointed that neither the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development Dale Kirby nor the Provincial Information and Library Resources Board (PILRB) have responded to CUPE’s requests to meet on this issue.

CUPE is calling on the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development to release the report from the financial and consulting accountancy firm EY who were contracted to review the library system and hold public consultations. The EY report should be released prior to the tabling of the provincial budget this spring.

Funding for provincial libraries have already been significantly reduced over the last few years and this has had profound impacts on library services in the province. Insufficient capital and materials budgets have affected the acquisition of new publications and the maintenance and/or replacement of existing equipment. Technical support for the entire system has been slashed, with a staff of eight – already a skeleton crew when it comes to serving 95 locations – cut down to five, making it even harder to meet demand. Over seventeen full-time equivalent staff positions have been eliminated, and the budget for substitute staff has been cut. Now 77 libraries in the system operate with only one staff person. One library in the system has already been forced to close.

Despite operating with limited resources, public libraries in Newfoundland Labrador are highly utilized. In 2014-2015, the public library in Harbour Grace – slated to close under the PILRB proposal – reported a circulation rate of 169% relative to its population (including online circulation and inter-library loans).

The library in Centreville – also slated to close – recorded a per-capita circulation rate of 420%. Internet services are equally compelling.

Brigus, a small community of 794, reported 3539 computer and Wi- Fi sessions in 2014-2015 and 2710 sessions in 2015-2016, a per-capita rate of 446% and 341%, respectively.

There is no indication that the “regional library model” will be able to supplement, improve, or replace the current system’s ability to meet both circulation and information service demands.

The important role of public libraries is clearly evident in Newfoundland Labrador. The province’s own data indicates a heavy reliance on the library system for computer access and Wi-Fi access. Event calendars show a wide variety of programming. For example, the following programs are currently being offered at libraries that are slated for closure (despite being already under-resourced):

  • Cow Head Public Library – The Art of Darning (skill), Preschool Reading Circle (literacy)
  • Stephenville Crossing Public Library – Babysitting Course (skill, childcare), Halloween Storytime (literacy)
  • Fogo Island Public Library – Burlap Wreath Making (craft), Coffee and Canvas (art)
  • Change Islands Public Library – Library Home Services (book delivery to seniors, social support)
  • Bay St. George South Public Library – Computer Training (skill), Story Time (literacy)
  • Harry’s Harbour Public Library – Craft Night (craft)
  • Norris Arm Public Library – Computer Training (skill), Talking Books (literacy), Story Time (literacy)

Beyond programming, Newfoundland Labrador libraries support community cultural programs, such as the Writers at Woody Point Festival, and provide links to community heritage, such as in Trepassy and other communities on the Irish Loop.

The PILRB has offered no satisfactory plan for how these important services and linkages will be maintained. While the proposed cuts may save a marginal sum of money, the loss of the “connecting layer of society” in many of these communities is not worth the savings. But even if this important role is discounted and libraries are evaluated in narrow economic terms, they show themselves a smart and highly productive investment, as explained below.

In the current political and economic climate, public libraries must often seek to justify their existence to policy-makers, communities, and stakeholders. Given the range of services that libraries provide, and the roles that they can play in communities and for their patrons, it can be difficult to quantify the value that libraries represent in simple dollar figures.

Like other educational institutions, libraries offer intangible value that is experiential, often expressed via concepts such as learning, knowledge, experience, and practice. Like other social institutions that provide intangible value, libraries are often among the first public institutions to face the consequences of an economic crunch. It is no longer sufficient, therefore, to presume a consensus on a public library’s value as a public good. Rather, library value is often “seen through the lens of a business model,” where patrons are clients who seek a return on investment.

CUPE recommends that the provincial government reverse the decision to close 54 of the province’s 95 public libraries, and restore funding at least to 2011 levels.

Even using this metric, public libraries are excellent investments that produce measurable economic value multiple times the level of funding they receive from the government. This value in seen many ways, including local economic development, increased property values, and the generation of social capital.

As noted in previous CUPE submissions to the provincial government, the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto released a report in 2013 that measured the economic impact of Toronto’s 98 public libraries.The report’s findings included:

  • For every dollar invested in the libraries, Torontonians received $5.63 of return value.
  • On average, each hour that any of the branches were open cost the city $653 but generated $2515 in measurable economic benefit.
  • For library patrons, the value of a (free) library membership was $500 on average per year.

Results of a similar study in Guelph, Ontario, reveal equally compelling data.Using a similar methodology to the Martin Prosperity Institute report in Toronto, the Guelph Public Library calculates its return on investment as $5.33 for every dollar of public investment. The value of a library membership for users was calculated at $673 yearly.

Nearby in London, Ontario, the return value of the London Public Library has been measured at 452%, and it is estimated to generate $102 million in total economic impact on the city. For every dollar invested in the public library, Londoners receive $6.68 in value.There is possibly no other public institution with greater direct and indirect positive economic impact than the public library.

These findings in Canada echo others from around the world.

United Kingdom 

A 2002 study out of Loughborough University found that the public library system in the UK generates 12.6% more value than it costs. This is before taking into account “the intangible benefits provided through its public service and merit features.” The study concludes that the value of the public library is considerable in terms of economic value and in terms of serving as a public good and an institution of social development and cohesion.

United States 

A study of the public library system in Minnesota undertaken in 2011 found that the library has a $4.62 return on investment for every $1 of public tax support it receives. The report also notes that the public library generates secondary value that is not captured in the return on investment metric:

Proximity to the library has value. Users who stop at the library while completing a longer list of errands report “halo” spending at firms and establishments close to the library. Although this spending is not part of an economic impact statement of Minnesota’s public libraries, it is also true that proximity to a library increases spending for those businesses located near the library.

A similar study out of Wisconsin found that the public library produces a return on investment of $4.06 for every dollar of taxpayer investment. The report outlines four ways in which this return is achieved:

  • Jobs generated by non-payroll library expenditures (such as acquisitions)
  • Service employment resulting from direct and indirect library expenditures

The same study noted that beyond the monetary value, public libraries generated positive measurable quality of life impacts, and that the “free access to information and technology” served to “level the playing field for many low-income people.”


According to a study of the national library system in Norway, “the value of the Norwegian public libraries decidedly outweighs their costs.” Similar to Newfoundland and Labrador, a high proportion (56%) of Norway’s public libraries are in rural communities with populations less than 5,000. Results of the study show that residents stressed the importance of libraries to local democracy and civic engagement. The report measured a four-fold return on investment (i.e. four NOK return for every one NOK of public money invested).

Approximately 90% of study participants also believed that reallocating library funding to other municipal services was undesirable, even if those other municipal services also were a benefit to their household. The researchers conclude that “using resources on public libraries is worth more in terms of individuals’ welfare than alternative use of resources.”

South Korea 

A recent study in South Korea reviewed the national library system and measured the value produced relative to all public spending, including salaries and benefits, materials purchasing, and operating costs. Return on investment was measured at 366% – 3.66 units return for every one unit of input.

The Korea study also found in its review of the literature that the necessity of justifying the expense of public libraries was increasing in many disparate jurisdictions, and that in all cases the return on investment was positive and significant. A return on investment of 3.66 was consistent with a wide range of other studies using a diverse array of methodologies.

Ironically, it is during times of economic constraint that many library budgets are cut, in a short-sighted attempt to contain extraneous costs. This is counterproductive. A well-funded, robust library system produces value and provides services to patrons that cannot be easily replaced. The public library responds to local needs and can adapt services to meet the demands of patrons.

Library staff know their communities, and are trained to facilitate appropriate and effective service delivery. Public libraries are a wise investment from both an economic and public good perspective.

The contribution of public libraries to the public good is not static.

The more plentiful and stable public library funding is, the more people it can help; the greater number of services, resources, and materials it can provide; the more community partnerships it can create; and the bigger impact it can have on its community. The size of the public good generated by the public library grows with the amount of support given to the library.

Due to their resources and the skills of staff members, public libraries can become centers for social services, emergency response and recovery, e-government, digital literacy and inclusion, job training, and innumerable other contributions to the health of the community, so long as they are provided sufficient support.

The public library is, in short, a public good that can adapt and expand through proportional increases in funding.

CUPE is calling on the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development to release the report from the financial and consulting accountancy firm EY who were contracted to review the library system and hold public consultations. The EY report should be released prior to the tabling of the provincial budget this spring.

CUPE recommends that the provincial government reverse the decision to close 54 of the province’s 95 public libraries, and restore funding at least to 2011 levels.



CUPE is dismayed by the Premier’s announcements that the much-needed Long Term Care facility and acute care hospital in Corner Brook will be built as public-private partnerships (P3s).

Auditor Generals, researchers and journalists across Canada have documented the problems with P3s also known as Alternative Funding Procurements (AFPs). The list of P3 failures and their unnecessary waste of taxpayers’ money grows, yet here we are in Newfoundland Labrador about to embrace that discredited model.

Below is a short and incomplete list of just five of the Canadian P3 health care facilities that went wrong. They are a warning about why we should not put our health care dollars into the pockets of private companies – companies who may not even be from our province.

CUPE recommends that the provincial government build the acute care hospital and the Long-Term Care Facility in Corner Brook using the traditional public procurement process.

North Bay Regional Hospital – Ontario 

The P3 North Bay Regional Hospital cost at least $160 million more as a P3. The project financing costs are adding millions extra each year, over 50 beds have been closed, and they are on the third round of layoffs with over 100 jobs cut. The hospital has only been open since 2011.

Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre – Ontario 

The Royal Ottawa Hospital mental health facility opened in November 2006 – smaller than originally planned, and with fewer beds. The final cost of the P3 hospital was $146 million, a cost overrun of $46 million. Economist Hugh Mackenzie analyzed publicly available financial details of the ROH. He concluded that private financing added $88 million to the hospital’s costs.

Montréal’s University Health Centres

In 2014, the Quebec newspaper La Pressereported that Auditor General Renaud Lachance released a review of Montréal’s University Health Centres explaining that the capital cost estimates were at least $1.8 billion over the original $5.2 billion announced for the P3 project.

William Osler Hospital – Ontario 

The William Osler Health Centre in Brampton, Ontario is another example of a P3 gone wrong. In 2008, the Ontario Auditor General found that the building of the P3 facility cost $194 million more (in 2003 dollars) than it would have as a public hospital.20 Local fundraising in Brampton had to increase to more than $230 million from an original $100 million in order to try to cover the difference. In the words of Globe and Mail columnist Andre Picard, “taxpayers got screwed”.

Diamond Health Care Centre, Vancouver General Hospital – British Columbia 

In the case of the P3 Diamond Health Care Centre, the actual nominal cost of a P3 was more than double that of a publicly procured project. In 2009, forensic accountants found that the Diamond Centre in Vancouver’s General Hospital total nominal cost (whole life cost including maintenance) could have been $89 million if it was built publicly. The BC provincial government spent $203 million – or $114 million more – on the hospital as a P3.

Public funding of infrastructure is well known to be the least expensive way to finance major infrastructure projects.

Public-private partnerships tap private investors to finance, design and maintain infrastructure projects. Private investors naturally demand rates of returns that need a profitable revenue stream—which taxpayers pay for through guaranteed annual payments from government.

There’s plenty to be wary of in P3s—higher costs, loss of transparency and accountability of public assets. Keep our long-term care facilities public.

CUPE recommends that the provincial government build the acute care hospital and the Long-Term Care Facility in Corner Brook using the traditional public procurement process. 

CUPE and Government of Newfoundland and Labrador representatives discuss P3 contracts for infrastructure

creynolds issues, News Release, Own Your NL, Privatization

CUPE Newfoundland Labrador President Wayne Lucas and CUPE Senior Economist Toby Sanger met with the Honourable Kathy Bennett, Minister of Finance, and the Honourable Al Hawkins, Minister of Transportation and Works, on March 28 to discuss the dangers of using private-public partnerships (P3s) to build infrastructure.

CUPE firmly believes that P3s are not in the best interest of workers, our families or our communities. On the contrary, we can count on public financing to be accountable, transparent, locally-controlled and a wise investment of tax dollars.

“We’re glad that government has agreed – as a result of resistance by CUPE, other unions and the public – to ensure that workers providing health care services will continue to be public employees and excluded from P3 contracts,” says Lucas. “However, we still don’t have anything in writing that says our members’ jobs and the quality of our public services will be protected.”

At the meeting on Tuesday, CUPE was encouraged that government representatives were receptive to concerns the union expressed about P3s. Both parties agreed there is a need for objective project planning and analysis on infrastructure projects.

The union requested that the department disclose all analysis to the public. Finance and Transportation and Works representatives made a commitment to publicly release the fully detailed business case, with all the appendices and numbers, in the fall when they are ready to award the contract.

Some of the union’s concerns that were discussed include:

  • Higher-cost private finance can double the cost of infrastructure projects.
  • Private finance will likely lead to higher user fees, which will increase inequality.
  • P3 projects involve far higher transaction costs — fees paid to lawyers, financial advisors, accounting firms and other consultants — to develop the deals.
  • Much of this extra money will likely flow out of the province, to large companies and investment funds.

“Private financing comes at a much higher cost, including off book debts, which will ultimately mean that less public funding will be available for public services, or for public infrastructure investments, in future years,” says Sanger.

So why would the Ball Government rely on P3s with higher-cost private financing?

There’s a desire by many politicians to keep borrowing costs off their books, at least in the short term. There is also pressure from the P3 and finance industry which want to gain higher rates of return from investing in public infrastructure or privatized public assets.

“Numerous auditors’ reports have found that P3s cost more, including the Ontario Auditor General who found that public sector financing and delivery for 74 projects would have saved the province $8 billion,” says Sanger. “P3 projects in the UK have resulted in £300 billion in debt (a half trillion Canadian dollars), equivalent to more than $25,000 per family. They also lead to cuts in public health services to pay for the higher financing costs.”

Lucas points out, “During the meeting we were not provided with evidence of any P3 deals throughout the country that were in the best interest of citizens.”

“If Government goes down the risky path of P3 deals, taxpayers in Newfoundland Labrador should be prepared for more debt and less reliable services.”

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We will contact you by email about CUPE initiatives, as well as social justice and political action campaigns.

Workers launch radio ad defending good jobs in Newfoundland and Labrador

creynolds Collective Bargaining, News Release

A new ad campaign by public service workers in Newfoundland and Labrador hit the airwaves this weekend, on radio stations across the province. CUPE’s public services workers launched the ad to voice their concerns about the Ball Government’s strategy for job growth (or lack thereof) and threats the Province is making to freeze wages and slash benefits.

“Finance Minister Cathy Bennett was not forthcoming, at her news conference in early March, about the extent of the concessions the Province is seeking from public service workers,” says CUPE National Representative Brian Farewell. “The Province is proposing to strip away benefits that have been negotiated through decades of collective bargaining – and many times at the expense of salary increases. Concessions they are asking for include wages, sick leave and group insurance.”

These attacks come at a time when the provincial unemployment rate is expected to increase from 13% to 17% by 2020, according to the Conference Board of Canada.

“Layoffs, wage freezes, cuts to public services, and attacks on unions are only making things worse,” says CUPE NL President Wayne Lucas.

CUPE believes the Ball Government should recognize the public sector as a driver of economic growth. There are steps the Province can take in the collective bargaining process – and in the next budget – that put people first, protect the public services we need, create good jobs and a stronger economy.

CUPE Newfoundland Labrador represents approximately 6,000 public service workers in health care, education, treasury, public housing, provincial libraries, university, transition and group homes, child care and much more.

Listen to the radio ad



About Us

creynolds About Us

CUPE Newfoundland and Labrador proudly represents more than 6,000 working women and men 60 locals. The union represents workers in health care, education, public housing, provincial libraries, municipalities, university, child care, recycling, social services and much more.

As a strong and democratic union, CUPE is committed to improving the quality of life for workers in Newfoundland and Labrador. Women and men working together to form local unions built CUPE. They did so to have a stronger voice – a collective voice – in their workplace and in society as a whole.

Each year, delegates from locals across the province come together for our Division Convention. Delegates elect our executive board and vote on resolutions to democratically set the priorities and direction of the union, guide the work of leaders and staff in the interests of every CUPE NL member.

Every two years, delegates from locals across the county attend our National Convention. Delegates elect our national officers and executive board, and vote on resolutions and policy papers.

CUPE NL is a division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Canada’s largest union. Here is a quick look at CUPE’s membership:

  • 644,000 members across the country
  • More than 60 per cent of our members are women
  • More than 70 per cent of CUPE’s 3,946 collective agreements are with locals of 100 members or less
  • CUPE has more than 2,363 locals and chartered organizations across the country, ranging in size from 20 to 20,000 members
  • CUPE membership’s collective payroll is over $21.8 billion

CUPE is a founding union of the Canadian Labour Congress, the umbrella organization for the Canadian labour movement.  With dozens of affiliated Canadian and International unions, as well as provincial federations of labour and regional labour councils, the CLC represents the interests of more than three million workers in every imaginable occupation from coast to coast to coast.

Globally, CUPE is a proud and active affiliate of Public Service International. As the global federation of public sector unions, PSI represents 650 affiliated trade unions in 148 countries and territories worldwide, uniting more than 20 million public sector workers.


Private financing wrong direction for Canadian infrastructure bank

creynolds Article, Economy, issues, Own Your NL, Privatization, Report

A report written by CUPE Economist Toby Sanger warns that private financing of the proposed Canada Infrastructure Bank could double the cost of infrastructure projects, and shows how the bank can instead provide low-cost, public financing for much-needed projects.

The study was published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in advance of the federal budget, where more details of the proposed bank are expected to be unveiled.

Sanger outlines the dramatic shift from Liberal election promises of a bank with low-cost financing to the current plan, which focuses on higher-priced private borrowing. The shift will increase pressure to privatize key infrastructure, and will mean less public funding is available to deliver public services and infrastructure.

“No homeowner in their right mind would commit to a loan or mortgage at a rate of 7 per cent or more when they can borrow at 2.5 per cent — especially when it involves locking in over 10, 20 or 30 years, and paying close to twice as much in total costs over the life of the project,” writes Sanger. “So why would the federal government make the Canada Infrastructure Bank rely on higher-cost private finance?”

The study outlines how the federal government could establish a Canadian infrastructure bank that works in the public interest by providing low-cost financing for public infrastructure.

Download a printable copy of the report: Creating a Canadian infrastructure bank in the public interest

A game of budgets and cuts

creynolds Collective Bargaining, Crossroads

A new ad campaign by public service workers in Newfoundland and Labrador will be shown on TV screens across the province starting today. CUPE’s public services workers launched the ad to voice their concerns about the Ball Government’s failure to protect good jobs, as well as the impact on our economy and our public services.

Watch the television ad during CBC News at 6 and 6:30 pm, as well as NTV Evening News and NTV First Edition.

In the provincial budget released on April 6, the Minister of Finance announced that, “Our government will propose legislative changes to implement a wage freeze for management and all non-union employees for the current fiscal year. This includes core government and agencies, boards and commissions.”

The threat of job layoffs and a wage freeze for public service workers, both unionized and non-unionized, is causing undue stress on families and communities.

With inflation currently at 4.1% and the average income (unionized and non-unionized) in the province of approximately $53,000, a wage freeze would cost workers almost $2,200 per year.

Collective agreements with the province typically cover a four-year period.

These attacks come at a time when the provincial unemployment rate is expected to increase from 13% to 17% over the next three years, according to the Conference Board of Canada.

Families in Newfoundland and Labrador are already struggling to make ends meet. Layoffs, wage freezes, cuts to public services, and attacks on unions are only making things worse. During a time of economic downturn, lower and middle income families need public services more than ever.

“All economic indicators are still pointing to challenging times for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in terms of job certainty, the unemployment crisis, being able to pay the bills, quality of life, and the security needed to build a future here,” says CUPE NL President Wayne Lucas.

CUPE believes the Ball Government should recognize the public sector as a driver of economic growth. There are steps the Province can take in the collective bargaining process, and in future budgets, that put people first, protect the public services we need, create good jobs and a stronger economy.

Tell the Ball Government to protect the good jobs and wages we need to stabilize our economy.

Life is not a game for people in Newfoundland and Labrador.

How much will you lose if a wage freeze is implemented?

This chart can be used to estimate how much you will lose if your wages remain the same and inflation is 4.1% for Newfoundland and Labrador. *

Annual Wages One Year Two Years Three Years Four Years
20000 824 1640 2460 3296
25000 1030 2060 3090 4120
30000 1236 2472 3708 4944
35000 1442 2884 4326 5768
40000 1648 3296 4944 6592
45000 1854 3708 5562 7416
50000 2060 4120 6180 8240
55000 2266 4532 6798 9064
60000 2472 4944 7416 9888
65000 2678 5356 8034 10712
70000 2884 5768 8652 11536
75000 3090 6180 9270 12360
80000 3296 6592 9888 13184

Source: Statistics Canada, Consumer Price Index, by province (monthly)

When private goes public – community wins

creynolds Article, Own Your NL, Privatization

Five years ago, the town of Conception Bay South, Newfoundland and Labrador, was facing problems with its privatized solid waste collection. Complaints were on the rise, and costs were headed in the same direction. In 2011, the town council voted to bring the service in house, ending 30 years of contracting-out.

The CUPE local representing the town’s workers had worked tirelessly over the years to convince management and council that public worked best, first bringing bulk garbage pickup back in house, and building a solid case to end privatization once and for all. Now, at the end of a successful five-year in-house trial period, the service is staying public. The town-run service has also expanded to include curbside recycling pickup.

“It’s a win-win for everyone,” says CUPE 3034 president Terri-Lynn Cooper. In a recent survey of town residents, garbage collection topped a list of what residents liked about their community, with nearly 82 per cent of people choosing the service first.

Increased service quality is a point of pride for the solid waste workers, members of CUPE 3034. In-house operation is also helping the solid waste crew improve their safety on the job. And town officials are also seeing the benefits of in-house control when it comes to accountability, flexibility and cost savings. The average yearly savings since bringing services in house are “significant,” says the town’s Chief Administrative Officer Dan Noseworthy, clocking in at about $230,000 a year to total $1.15 million over five years.

With 25,000 residents, Conception Bay South is the province’s second-largest – and fastest-growing – community. The town’s in-house crew works the streets four days a week in distinctive white garbage trucks, picking up trash from about 10,000 homes.

Some households use wooden garbage boxes, which can be a health and safety hazard. The boxes aren’t always at the roadside, they attract rodents and wasps, and can have protruding screws. As direct employees of the town, the solid waste crew is better equipped to address the ongoing issue of broken-down boxes and other hazards like bags that are overweight or full of sharp items.

“If we see it’s unsafe, now we have the power not to touch it,” says solid waste crew member Gary Lush, who worked for a contractor before being hired by the town in 2012. “We can take a photo and email it [to town staff] explaining what’s wrong, with the address.”

Under the contractor, workers didn’t have a direct line to town administration. When they didn’t pick up garbage because it was unsafe, town staff and homeowners wouldn’t know why garbage was left behind. Problems would go unsolved, which led to complaints. Now, with clear lines of communication and responsibility, town staff can follow up with property owners about problems, working with the in-house crew. “Every time I put in a complaint, the next week I go back and it’s all cleaned up,” says crew member Shawn Dillon. Being able to tackle unsanitary and unsafe garbage boxes is part of the difference in-house delivery makes.

“Accountability comes with ownership and responsibility. When you have someone specifically responsible for that particular service, they own it,” says Noseworthy. “We’re better prepared and more willing to address occupational health and safety issues like garbage boxes,” he says.

As a contractor, Corey Mitchell didn’t get paid sick time and other benefits he now has as a town employee. “Everything is better – wages are higher with the town, and benefits are better.” The town also supplies safety equipment, like proper boots, that he had to pay for before.

Dillon has been part of the solid waste crew since 2012. He beams when he describes how it feels to be keeping the town clean for his neighbours, family, and community members. “It’s just excellent to be doing this,” he says. The pace of the work lets Dillon and his crewmates work safely and carefully. The in-house routes break the town into four runs, while the contracted-out service had three longer runs – and much more lifting.

For Mitchell, it’s the difference between lifting 13 tons of garbage a day with the contractor, and eight tons with the shorter in-house routes. Crew members also have a regular route, which helps deliver consistent, reliable service. Residents have noticed the difference says Mitchell, who also joined the crew in 2012. “They’ll come up and greet you and thank you. At Christmas, we get cards. People are great with us.”

The tone for the town’s high service standards is set by the white garbage trucks that it bought when the service came in house. Painted white and emblazoned with the town’s logo of a child playing on a tire swing, the crew washes them at the end of every day. The contractor’s trucks were dirty and showed their age with leaks and frequent breakdowns that meant missed pickups, says Cooper.

Former contractor Leo Power worked as part of the original in-house crew. The town’s trucks are “far superior” to the contractor’s vehicles, including a feature that lets the engine work as a brake. “We’ve got a lot of weight [in our trucks]. When you’re going downhill, you’re not picking up speed, you’re actually losing speed,” says Power.

Buying new trucks meant fewer breakdowns and mechanical problems. Town mechanics maintain the fleet, another factor that boosts reliability and reduces costs. A four-day pickup schedule leaves Mondays for maintenance, and there’s room in the town’s service bays for other unexpected work, which means trucks get back on the road faster than with a private garage.

The mechanics, also members of CUPE 3034, are taking care of a million-dollar investment, and it shows in the service they provide, says the town’s Superintendent of Public Works Joe Byrne. “The trucks are serviced to death here. The oil is never black in our trucks, it just doesn’t happen. We won’t lose an engine because the oil wasn’t changed, or anything.”

After five years, the town is planning to start replacing its fleet. “The trucks are still going, but the mileage is up and every part is moving every day”, says Byrne. The town’s fleet renewal plans mean trucks will be retired before problems set in, a move Byrne says will save “a lot of money and a lot of downtime.” The town will keep the truck with the lowest mileage as a backup, ensuring reliable service even when one of the new trucks is off the road for maintenance.

At the end of every collection day, a convoy of four trucks heads for the landfill in nearby St. John’s. Crew members work as a team – waiting until everyone’s finished their route before leaving. If one member’s behind, others who are already done step in to help finish the other route.

“The hardest-working guys in this town work in garbage collection,” says Byrne.

“We’re all out to help everybody ‑ and look after each other,” says Lush. “I’m working with a fine bunch of people.”

Karin Jordan | CUPE Communications

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