Thursday, 12 July 2012

The Maintenance and Construction Skilled Trades Council in Toronto should be dissolved
Some of the paragraphs are highlighted by have white backgrounds. It has no significence as it is an anomaly in the printing

Labour unions should be non-profit organizations where the interests of its members and those they serve are paramount. Most labour unions appear to follow this precept but just as no two fingerprints are the same, neither are two unions. There are good unions and there are rotten unions. I am going to tell you about a rotten union that is based in Toronto Ontario. It calls itself the Maintenance and Construction Skilled Trades Council, (MCSTC) a union which has an exclusive contract for work at the Toronto District School Board and which it insists that almost all of the work done for the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) which is its only customer, must be performed only by its members, who are also hired by the TDSB as employees of the TDSB. Recently, the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest newspaper did an expose on this particular union and after reading it, I began to feel the skin at the back of my neck tingle.
Now we have all read horror stories about overcharging such as what occurred in the USA years ago when Wal-Mart was fined $2.2 million for overcharging for goods sold to its customers or when a San Diego company charged U.S. military personnel fees as high as $41 a minute for making pay phone calls from an airport in Leipzig, Germany or when the pharmacy chain CVS designed a billing software program that consistently overcharged Medicaid for prescription drugs. NASA was plagued with overcharges by suppliers such as when they were billed a thousand dollars for each toilet seat sold to NASA by the supplier. NASA was once billed by a supplier as much as $250,000 for one toilet and $19,000 for a small radio antenna.

I think the reason why these kinds of criminal acts are done is because the people who overcharge really believe that the discrepancies won’t be discovered. But more often than not, they are discovered sooner or later.
Toronto’s public school system has the oldest schools in the province, with almost two-thirds of them built in 1950 and 1960. Last year alone, $61.7 million of capital and maintenance work identified by principals did not get done. All told, the school board estimates it would cost $3 billion to bring the schools to a safe and well-maintained level.

Each year, principals at the almost 600 public schools across Toronto submit requests to get work done. Under a longstanding agreement with Jimmy Hazel’s Maintenance and Construction Skilled Trades Council (which is really a union), almost all of that work must be performed by its members, who are employees of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). Projects larger than $1.5 million, or those requiring special skills, can only be done by companies whose workers are part of the affiliated unions. Principals and custodial staff have long been told that Hazel’s union must do the bulk of the work at schools.
Principals are given budgets for repairs at their school and are asked to prioritize the work. They look to the Maintenance and Construction Skilled Trades Council (MCSTC) to do the maintenance and repairs for the Toronto public schools.

The 900-strong Maintenance and Construction Skilled Trades Council is run by Jimmy Hazel, a powerful figure who is on the hot seat over inflated charges for minor jobs at Toronto’s public schools. Here are some examples of overcharging for such services supplied by some of the members of the MCSTC.
The school board was billed $143 to screw a $17 pencil sharpener under a bookshelf with four screws. Rick Tarasuk, a principal at one of the public schools in Toronto, requested installation of the sharpener and a crew was sent out by the TDSB. The sharpener has five screws but it was installed with only four screws. Tarasuk was shocked at the cost and raised the issue at a meeting of east end principals. TDSB director Chris Spence was in attendance and vowed to have the charge reversed.

After the discovery of the overcharge, the TDSB apparently took a step to save face and told the Star that it has now sent a message out to school caretakers (who work for a different union) advising them that they may install pencil sharpeners.
When the call came from the public school board in early 2012 to install a new electrical outlet in the Albert Campbell Collegiate Institute in Scarborough, it seemed like an easy request. However, since it involved electrical work, the union’s rules required two TDSB electricians to be dispatched. The job, which involved attaching an electrical socket into the library wall and then running cable through the suspended ceiling to an electrical panel, took two hours and the school was billed for four-person hours in total.

TDSB documents showed the bill reflected 76 hours of work, for a total cost of $2,895.78. Compare that with the fact that electricians at the board are paid $38 per hour. That would mean that the bill should have been calculated at $38 times two men times two hours in which the bill would then be $152. Why then was the school charged $2,743.78 more than what should have been charged for the work done by the two electricians for two hours work? The answer will be given to you later in this article.
The job was done on February 13, 2012  School principal Roy Hu objected to the cost and wrote to the board to complain, according to a string of emails obtained by the Star.

He wrote; “There were two board tradesmen who came in that morning and the job was completed by mid-morning, I cannot imagine how two TDSB employees for some two odd hours, supplies and materials would cost over $3000?” (taxes included)
At the Sir John A. Macdonald Collegiate, the principal had raised questions about the $38,000 to purchase and install a school sign in 2008. He raised a complaint about the cost of installation, which was half the bill, and would have represented 500 hours of labour or two electricians working for 14 days.

The 1.8-metre-high electric sign allows the school to post announcements remotely. The sign was purchased for $19,000 from a Cambridge company. The TDSB was charged another $19,000 to install it. Installation included a cement foundation and running a wire underground to the school office. An official at the Cambridge company estimated it should have cost only about $2,000 to install the sign.
According to the union’s boss, Jimmy Hazel (now there is a nasty piece of work who has admitted that he does have enemies at the school board) response to the request of a Toronto Star reporter when asking about the excessive costs involving the installation of the wall socket, replied, “We don’t need to fucking prove anything to anybody about costs. A shit load more work was done to justify the cost of that plug job I can tell you.”

Yeah, sure and the world is flat. If you really believe that then you should have no problem accepting Hazel’s further response and justification for the expense when he gave his explanation for those outrageous costs? Brace yourself for here comes two of his responses with respect to the installation of the electrical socket.
At one point in that conversation with the Star reporter, Hazel speculated that there must have been asbestos in the roof and his workers might have had to don space suits for protection against the asbestos dust. In the end, Hazel said it was an ‘error in the data entry’ on the work order. There appears to be quite a few errors in the data entries. Who punches in the data? A blind retarded monkey? If so, does anyone check over the blind retarded monkey’s work?

Later in the conversation, Hazel cooled down and vowed that heads would roll in his own union hall if the Star’s information were true. If any heads should roll, it should be Hazel’s head. He added, “If you are right, I will stand behind you in the paper and say it is a problem and you can come with me while I investigate.”
Hazel spent a week on his so-called investigation and he also hired a crisis communication consultant. (Is that a pseudonym for a spin doctor?) In some of the cases, including the pencil sharpener and the electrical outlet, Hazel now says the problem was a ‘clerical error’ and much of the money was refunded to the schools in question. Clerical error? Give me a break. How can anyone make that kind of clerical error unless of course the information was punched into the computer by a blind retarded monkey? It has been said that if you put a thousand monkeys in a room sitting at computers, in a million years they may actually type out a Shakespearean play. Will it take that long for the monkeys in the Council to type out an honest bill? 

Here is the reason for the padded invoices according to a source that spoke with the Star reporter. The four-person-hour electrical outlet job was padded with 72 additional hours to justify paying the salary of other electricians who had no work to do or who didn`t show up for work or left early before the job was done. The source also told the Star that Hazel has now determined that he has too many electricians and that as many as seven have recently been laid off for this reason. That is their problem and it doesn`t justify padding bills for work being done by members of the Council.
Hazel presides over an unusual consortium which is a kind of construction company that has an exclusive contract with the Toronto’s public school board. The school board has an internal tracking database that contains details of the annual 1.8 million hours of work the board’s electricians, carpenters, plumbers and other trades claim they have performed. The almost 900 electricians, plumbers, carpenters and maintenance workers are paid as TDSB employees, but Hazel as the consortium’s boss has a great deal of say in what they do. This is what Hazel had to say in a written response to the Star’s enquiry;  

“Our division processes approximately 190,000 work orders annually. Regrettably some errors happen in work orders, time slips or in the electronic coding of this information. Our division at the TDSB has a customer service approach that allows any principal or facility supervisor to contact either the skilled trades department or management or both with complaints about work, costs and billing. We will follow up and correct errors. We learn from them, try to find the cause and correct it.” That reply is what is commonly referred to as hogwash. Let me explain.

The Star has requested a copy of the massive TDSB database that tracks the work at schools, but it has not yet been released. The database contains, each year, records of roughly 1.8 million person hours of work claimed by the board’s unionized electricians, plumbers and carpenters. They are paid in total about $72 million annually in salaries. So far, it is still a secret from the taxpayers who support the public school system and who are forced to pay the bills submitted to the public school system in Toronto by the TDSB.
Hazel brags about his division at the TDSB that allows principals to complain about the work done or the billing for the work. More hogwash. Let me tell you what he did when he learned that the principal of the Albert Campbell Collegiate Institute in Scarborough had filed a complaint about the outrageous overcharge for the installation of the electrical socket in his school’s library. Hazel phoned him and threatened to use his influence to have him fired. Hazel told the popular principal he would do this by “going upstairs” to the school’s board of directors. Hazel admitted to the Star in an email that while “I can’t have anyone fired,” he is going to talk to TDSB director Spence and complain about Tarasuk, (the principal) because he thinks the principal’s conduct could rate “termination” in most workplaces. Hazel’s mouth was drooling from all that hogwash he was spewing out to the public.

In an email to trustees at the school board, School Superintendent Colleen Russell raised the electrical outlet as “an example of a long-standing concern that school principals have had with regards to the exorbitant charges for minor services.”
Russell said it was important to look into the matter as debates about the board budget “rage on.” Russell wrote that schools should figure out a way to pay market rate and noted that she had “an even higher quote for the same service” in her board office.

In some cases, construction and maintenance workers s have signed in to work at a school, then announced they had to go get “parts” and were later discovered by TDSB officials spending a great deal of time drinking in a bar or being at Tim Horton’s. In another case, a male worker was found in a board vehicle with a female “fooling around,” according to a board source.

The workers submitted time sheets and were paid their wages as if they put in a full day’s work, when in fact they had not, according to school board sources. Admittedly, in the last six months, as the TDSB starts to grapple with this issue, eight trades people have been fired for cause after being found at bars, Tim Horton’s or, in one case, distributing flyers for a home-based repairs business using school board equipment. As an aside, when I was the manager of a security firm in the 1970s, I did a spot investigation of one of our security guards who was supposed to patrol a construction site at night. I caught him calling in on the hour while drinking at a nearby bar. Needless to say, I fired him the following morning.
The school board is seriously considering placing GPS tracking devices in TDSB vehicles by then end of 2012 to stop its workers from goofing off and it also the rescheduling of working hours so that morning and afternoon shifts don’t overlap.

Construction and maintenance workers at Toronto schools were told to campaign for school board trustees and some Liberal MPPs by union bosses, who also provide hefty donations to the same politicians. One carpenter told the Star that his job hours were cut off after he refused to go door to door hammering in Liberal Party of Ontario signs in the final days of an election campaign. He said, “I ended up on the ‘Do Not Call Back List.’ ”  

He said that in late September last year, he was asked by Hazel’s Council to take a pile of lawn signs in his truck, drive around to specific addresses around the Toronto region and pound them into front lawns. He added, “At the time I was broke and I couldn’t afford the gas.” The carpenter had no other choice but to refuse.
The carpenter said he was also asked by Jimmy Hazel’s son, Barry (who runs the carpentry unit), to campaign for the Liberals in the provincial election campaign last fall. Hazel’s son told the carpenter. “The Liberals like it when all the people come to give a hand.” Are we to presume from that inane statement that the Liberal politicians have no qualms about excepting volunteers from the Council when they are pressed into volunteering against their own wishes?

An investigation by the Star shows that Hazel and his affiliates have provided at least $118,000 in donations to trustees and Liberal MPPs in a recent four-year period. The donations come from Hazel, his Council and his executives personally and the affiliated unions (electrical, etc.) that make up the trades Council.
In a response to questions, Hazel said that all of his political activities are decisions made by his Council’s political action committee and decisions to donate and direct donations reflect the best interests of its members. I find it difficult to believe that all members of that union are happy to donate their time and hard-earned money to the election campaigns of Liberal or any other kinds of politicians.

Many public school board trustees have received donations from Hazel and his affiliates, almost all in the form of $750 cheques. Public School Trustee Sheila Ward however had received the most, with $6,000 towards her campaigns in 2010 and 2006. Doesn’t this constitute a conflict of interest? Is this why she didn’t wish to give a comment to the Star? Was this because it might have constituted a conflict of interest?
Politician Sam Sotiropoulos said that toward the end of the by-election in February, 2012, Hazel arranged for a team of TDSB construction and maintenance workers to deliver about 5,000 of his campaign pamphlets door to door in the east end Toronto neighbourhoods where he was running for election. Sotiropoulos said he also accepted $1,250 in campaign donations from Hazel’s trades Council and an affiliate because “elections are expensive” and he needed the money. Doesn`t this also constitute a conflict of interest?

School trusties sometimes have different interests than the taxpayers who are supporting the public school system. A trustee accepting campaign money from a union that has a contract with the school board raises the ugly specter that a trustee might vote in a certain way that is in the interest of the donator and that in my opinion could consist of a conflict of interest and if so, such a vote may not be in the taxpayer’s best interests. I am not saying that the donations given to Public School Trustees Ward and Sotiropoulos and the other trustees have in any way influenced their voting but the fact that a possible conflict of interest may exist between the Council and them, should be troubling to them as to how it may look to the taxpayers.  
All conflict of interest`` rules are based on the moral principle, long embodied in our jurisprudence that no man can serve two masters. It recognizes the fact that the judgment of even the most well-meaning men and women in public office may be impaired when their personal financial interests are affected. Public office is a trust conferred by public authority for a public purpose. Conflict of interest rules by its broad proscription, enjoins holders of public offices within its ambit from any participation in matters in which their economic self-interest may be in conflict with their public duty especially if they are doing business with people who have donated money towards their election campaigns. The public’s confidence in its elected representatives demands no less.

Hazel, who initially unleashed a profanity-filled tirade on a Star reporter, has hired Ross Parry, a former official in the Liberal government. Hazel said Parry is helping him fine-tune his responses to the media. Parry, who was also the TDSB communications chief in the late 1990s, is helping Hazel put “all the information we collected into prose.” Like many examples of prose, will it too be fiction?
All outside building contractors hired by the Toronto District School board have to pay Jimmy Hazel’s trades Council a cut of their wages along with paying their dues to their own unions. Those contractors have paid a total of $2 million over the past 10 years to the Maintenance and Construction Skilled Trades Council, according to a TDSB official.

As much as 0.5 per cent of every outside contract fee is deducted by the TDSB from money owing to the contractor and transferred directly to Hazel’s Maintenance and Construction Skilled Trades Council, even though the Council doesn’t send one of its own members to perform the work. Several contractors have told the Star that contractors sometimes inflate their price for school board work to pay Hazel’s group. This ends up being paid by the taxpayers. In some instances the fee is tacked on to the bid on the contract, making it higher than it otherwise would be. Those payments amounted to $2 million over the past ten months which were deducted from outside trades people. Hazel has tried to explain the 0.5 surcharge as union dues. I find that strange considering that members of unions pay their own dues out of their own pocket. This is something that will be part of the negotiations when the renewal with the MCSTC contract comes up on August 31, 2012.

I experienced something like that many years ago when I was invited to give a piano performance on a television show even though I was donating my time for the performance. The union that pianists and other performers belonged to insisted that the television station pay the union a certain amount of money so that a pianist who was a member of the union wouldn’t be out of money because he wasn’t asked to give the performance.  I was so angry at this kind of bull shit when I learned of it, I contacted the station and told the producer of the show that since I wasn’t being paid and the union pianist was being paid to stand off stage and do nothing, they should use him and get their monies worth. No amount of the producer's pleading caused me to change my mind and my role in the show was canceled and the union pianist was told there was no need for him to remain so he returned home empty-handed.  
The Toronto Star reported that there were cost overruns by the board's construction and maintenance tradesmen. Their investigation has uncovered the cozy relationship between the board and the Maintenance and Construction Skilled Trades Council, the union which has been charging some outrageous sums to do even the smallest of jobs.

Hundreds of teachers, parents, school officials and even unionized workers who are part of the Council contacted the Star to complain about the waste of taxpayers’ money by the TDSB. Top TDSB officials, including director Chris Spence, school superintendents and deputy operations director Penny Mustin, have refused to be interviewed about the matter. Is it because they are too embarrassed to explain why they have let this farce go on for so long?
The Toronto Star reported that there were cost overruns by the board's construction and maintenance tradesmen. Their investigation has uncovered a cozy relationship between the board and the Maintenance and Construction Skilled Trades Council, especially since the union has been charging some outrageous sums to do the jobs and the TDSB has been paying them. The TDSB’s chief facilities officer, Angelos Bacopoulos, who is responsible for overseeing construction and maintenance work for the schools, said in an interview that the board realizes it has a problem but does not yet know how widespread it is. Bacopoulos would not provide specific details, but board sources say the board is digging into the matter. The Chair of the Toronto District School Board is also weighing in on this spending scandal involving contracts for its maintenance and construction jobs.

Here is something that the Star wrote that is really interesting. At the Toronto Catholic District School Board, a school system that is about half the size of the public board has only 70 workers who are employed full-time. Other work is contracted out.

Spokesperson Angelo Sangiorgio said it would not “make sense” to employ more because there is not enough plumbing or electrical work to keep trades people busy.

If their schools are as old as the public schools, (and I think they are) then what are they doing that is right that the public schools are not doing right?  Well, for one thing, they are not dealing with the Maintenance and Construction Skilled Trades Council.

Jimmy Hazel’s trades council has doled out hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in TigerDirect store gift cards to Toronto school board maintenance and construction workers, with at least some of the money coming from what an insider referred to as a Liberal government “slush fund.” Hundreds of workers used the gift cards which were in $300 and $500 denominations to buy personal electronic products, cameras, DVDs and games or to put towards the purchase of computers at electronics retailer Tiger Direct. At least $253,000 in cards went out the door, though it may be double that amount.  Hazel said that the money was to open the doors on a shopping spree at TigerDirect, the U.S-based electronics retailing giant that sells both online and out of its stores. The trades Council said in a note to its workers that the money could be used to “subsidize the purchase of computer and related peripheral equipment.” Why would carpenters and electricians be given free computers?       
And how would computers, cameras and computer games help the workers in their jobs? Were the gifts a means of convincing the members of the union that when it came time for elections to the hierarchy of the Council, the members will remember the kindness of Hazel and his cronies?
Now brace yourself again for Hazel’s explanation as to why he gave these gifts to his members. He told the Star in an email answering questions about the TigerDirect gift cards that the decision on how to distribute the money was made by his trades council and TDSB brass and (here it comes) the money was used to help workers increase their use of “information technology.” Excuse me. I have to go to the regurgitation bucket again.

The TDSB called it a “fund for professional development” and said it was to be used by “education support workers.” The Liberal government said it was up to the TDSB to make sure the money is properly spent. As I see it, they didn’t.  Maintenance and tradesmen are not education support workers. That term applies only to teachers and instructors.
TDSB director, Chris Spence asked a rhetorical question, “What am I going to do about Hazel? My response is to have no more dealings with him or his Council. The school board’s chairman, Chris Bolton has finally come to terms with this problem of Hazel and his Council and has stated he and the board members are responsible for this problem of inflated charges billed to the schools. Convening a committee of the very trustees who have been aware of this problem to study the problem further makes no sense. There should be an independent committee investigating this problem where the members of that committee haven’t been given campaign donations by the very people they are investigating.

A review by consultants six years ago of the Toronto District School Board’s maintenance and construction division found many of the same problems facing the school board today.

Blackstone Partners carried out its review in 2006 and then submitted a 113-page report to the TDSB in January 2007 detailing a litany of issues: high costs of repairs, lots of workers and spotty results, and managerial “silos” that made it hard for principals to figure out whom to approach to get a job done. Nothing has changed since then. Forty-three recommendations came out of the Blackstone report. The school board says a few have been carried out and others are in the works, but the Toronto Star investigation found that the main problems of high costs and a chaotic and fragmented system still exist.
The TSSB contract with the MCSTC expires this August and negotiations will begin in September. I think that the TSSB should seriously consider having nothing more to do with the MCSTC and simply put out requests for bids to do the necessary repairs to the individual unions such as the carpenter’s union, electrician’s union etc., and deal directly with them. Also, I think there should be an investigation into the conduct of Hazel’s role in the MCSTC union.

The Progressive Conservative Party in the Ontario provincial legislature, have said that the $143 spent to install a pencil sharpener at a Toronto school is a prime reason why tendering for repairs and renovations at public institutions should be open to all contractors.  I agree with their observation.
Tory MPP, Todd Smith said, “We need to open up the process creating competition, lower costs from unions and give employers (of the schools) a freer hand. The current system of ‘closed tendering’ only leads to wasteful spending and questionable practices.”

 Further investigations of potential contractors as to their viable fiscal ability to complete the job and a history of complaints against them if any should be considered before awarding them the jobs.
Further, I think that the current TDSB board members should all be sacked and the government should appoint a supervisor to take over temporarily until a new board can be created.

The fact that the current board members have failed to stop the egregious practices of the Maintenance and Construction Skilled Trades Council in the past is proof that they are incapable of doing what is expected of them as the overseers of the public school system.  All the time they sat on the board, they were aware of the problems brought upon the schools but remained silent because of their fear that their inaction would reflect badly on them.
Sheila Ward, one of the trustees whined that the problem was that the board was a big organization and that made it harder for them to communicate with one another. I have never heard such balderdash. And to think that the taxpayers actually paid this woman to sit on the board. What is irksome is that these people were paid good money to be members of the board and they sat on their rhetorical butts with their fingers up the same and did nothing to stop the bleeding of the finances oozing from the school system`s coffers. Trying to fix the current board is about as pointless as trying to fix the Titanic while it was slipping under the surface of the sea.

I really believe that a new school board should be appointed and then they should send a message to Hazel and his cronies who operate the Maintenance and Construction Skilled Trades Council. The message should be a statement stating that a bad union is not unlike a pesky beggar and as such, they should be told to move on—preferably right out of town.


In January 2013, the provincial government of Ontario ordered that the Toronto District School Board was to still do business with the Skilled Trades Council despite the fact that workers in the Council were ripping of the school board. 

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