Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Levy: Still gravy galore at City Hall

TORONTO - Transportation services worker Jay Harvey was one of the 1,136 city employees who applied to leave under the much-touted Voluntary Separation program (VSP).

Harvey, an Engineering Technologist/Technician who handles construction-related permits, will turn 55 at the end of February, at which point he is eligible to retire.

He’d hoped to be able to leave this month, latest next, with a salary to tide him over until he his retiree benefits kick in -- as offered in the corporate-wide VSP announced with great fanfare by city manager Joe Pennachetti this past July.

But he was turned down unceremoniously last week, not because his job was essential but because his department was “unwilling to give up any vacancies,” he told me Monday.

As Harvey explains, if he walks out the door at the end of February, they can post his position and hire someone new. But if he’s given a buyout, his position is lost -- forever.

Despite what city officials may mouth about the new era of restraint, what he came up against was a culture of managers who simply don’t want to sacrifice any bodies.

“The whole culture is one of empire-building ... they (managers) look out for each other,” said the 35-year public sector worker.

In fact, it would appear that the empire builders in Transportation Services were downright recalcitrant about giving up positions. Of the 138 employees who applied for the VSP, a mere 17 were given the nod.

Of the 1,136 unionized and management staff who applied for the buyouts corporation-wide, only 230 were approved.

Harvey, a member of CUPE 79, is not surprised with the low VSP numbers. “I have yet to find anybody who was approved in Transportation,” he says.

Another Transportation employee, who is past 60 years old and eligible to retire, was also turned down with the excuse he’s an “essential service.”

The CUPE 416 member, who preferred not have his name used, said his yard is soon to be consolidated with other yards, leaving plenty of staff to do the job.

“How many brains does it take to fill a pothole?” he asked. “Sure there are enough people.”

City manager Joe Pennachetti defended the low numbers, saying city employees didn’t realize it would be “impossible” to let go those applying from programs cost-shared with the province -- around 30% of the applicants.

“I am not going to pay someone six months’ salary for a job I’m going to replace two months later,” he said.

Asked about the other 70% of the applicants, he said he went through all the categories, division by division, with each general manager because he was concerned the “numbers were low” -- insisting the program was followed.

“A manager tells an employee your job is critical and we’re keeping it and they read that as empire-building,” he said.

Look, Pennachetti can mouth the party line all he wants.

However, I doubt very much this empire-building is restricted to Transportation Services.

The culture of entitlement exists throughout the corporation and many managers would sooner put pins in their eyes than lose the fiefdoms they’ve built up since amalgamation.

If Mayor Rob Ford and his Team were naive about anything, it was just how much determination it will take to turn the culture around at City Hall.

Most empire-builders have been around far longer than Ford. They figure they will outlast this mayor, as they did the last one and the one before him.

Harvey, who wrote an e-mail to all councillors and the mayor this past weekend urging them to do a review of the VSP program to ensure the criteria were followed, says the managers too are “tripping over each other” in his department and are a definitely a source of gravy.

He added that the management culture -- which encourages preferential treatment for certain city customers and nepotism -- is “completely different than the political culture.”

“Until someone cleans house and changes the culture, it’s (the corporation) still very much full of the old ideas,” Harvey said “There are those who are still resisting amalgamation.”

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