Recreation worker says city staff ‘demoralized’

Toronto’s part-time park, forestry and recreation workers are now operating under a new, four-year contract that was ratified last month. 

The 8,600 part-timers accepted an offer that some say was only a slight revision to one they rejected days earlier. The settlement avoided a strike, but it may not have addressed the job dissatisfaction that some workers have been feeling — including Norma Campbell, a fitness instructor at the East York Community Centre.

Campbell described what she said is fundamental unfairness in the way the city treats some of its workers.

She explained that the 1998 amalgamation of the former municipalities of the old Metro Toronto — Toronto, North York, Scarborough, Etobicoke, East York and York — into the “megacity” created problems for municipal employees. Wage scales in departments such as parks and recreation differed from one former municipality to the next, and the megacity and its workers have been trying to reach an agreed fair pay scale for workers.

“You had two fitness instructors teaching out of the same centre, and one was paid ‘A’ while the other was paid ‘B’. Where’s the fairness in that?” said Margaret Dougherty, of the city’s media relations department.

But the final harmonization agreement, known as the Kaplan Award, has failed to satisfy many part-time workers. For Campbell, a fitness instructor for 33 years, it has meant a drop in pay from $35.02 per hour to $24.12 per hour.

According to Campbell, other employees’ hourly rates have been cut in half. She said it’s been especially disconcerting, since she and her colleagues were initially promised that there would be no wage decreases — that wages would go up for some to meet the new standards and those already making greater than that amount would be “grandfathered” so they could keep their pay rate.

Instead, arbitrator William Kaplan stated in his final ruling that “the transitory nature of employment within the existing classification structure makes it virtually impossible as a matter of principle to provide a rational red-circling arrangement.”

Moreover, Campbell said, many temporary positions, such as student summer camp counsellors, have been lumped in with permanent part-time positions, like many of the employees at the East York Community Centre.           

She said she speaks for many of the affected workers when she says “it’s demoralizing.”

“It’s not an easy job,” Campbell said. “You can’t teach fitness 35 hours a week. It’s impossible.”

But despite the appeals of her union, CUPE Local 79, the Kaplan Award took effect last month. Campbell, now nearing retirement, insists that this is “something the public should be aware of,” despite the risk to her job for speaking with the press.

And while she understands the necessity for harmonization, she is disappointed that the resolution hurts more employees than it helps.

“It’s all going to be done on the backs of the part-time workers,” she said.