Now we know why the Internal Auditor fingered the transit workers

Posted November 27, 2013

Officers of the Amalgamated Transit Union representing employees of Guelph Transit have charged the city with “misrepresentation” in the wake of the damning report by the internal auditor of alleged abuse of overtime and absenteeism by ATU employees.

The auditor did not mince words when she accused some transit employees of  “misappropriation” of city funds. She told the audit committee that she was not “finger pointing” at all transit employees.

Michael Mahar, Canadian director of the union said the auditor’s report was “misleading”. He went on to say that “transit workers put in extra hours to make sure there is always a service provided.  He added that the industry is prone to higher absenteeism due to the nature of the job.”

Well, he got that right. Guelph Transit has the highest rate of absenteeism and sick leave of all other city departments. In 2012, the average number of sick leave by ATU members was 19.8 days. The total number of sick days off was 7,650. That department had some 345 employees last year.

Conclusion: How do you run a transit service that has an average of four weeks sick leave per employee? Throw in three weeks vacation time and statutory holidays and the annual attendance on the job by a transit worker is 43 weeks a year. That’s a pretty good gig.

But not all transit workers are abusing the system. The auditor stated it was a group of employees who contributed to the overtime in 2012 of $1 million. That’s almost 20 per cent of the $5,067,000 staff wide overtime for 2013. If CAO Ann Pappert had not frozen overtime for the balance of the year, that figure would have been greater.

The total number of sick days claimed by staff in 2012 was 21,469. That works out to an average for all city employees of 11.7 claimed sick days. Obviously three departments dominate the sick leave numbers. Besides Transit (7,650 days) there is CUPE 241 outside workers (6,002 days) and Firefighters (2,429 days).

Note that in 2008 the total of sick days across all departments was 14,755. In 2012 it was 21,469.

Other tidbits in the HR 2012 report stated that 20 percent of the city staff would be eligible to retire in the next five years. Start factoring in annual salary increases and accumulated sick leave payouts, and this could result in a big liability for taxpayers.

The cost of staff benefits has risen by 38.6 per cent since 2008. Consider that’s an annual increase of 7.72 per cent. In dollars it’s an increase of $2,159,094 in just five years. In 2012, benefits cost $7,746,722.

What started this was Coun. Gloria Kovach’s attempt to get the total number of employees working for the city and their classification. The mayor said the numbers were in the Human Resources 2012 annual report.

Well, they are, to a degree. They list 847 “other” employees without breaking out their classifications. That’s what Coun. Kovach was after.

For the record in 2012 the city had 2,065 employees. That was markedly greater that the 1,441 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) employees the city stated in its various releases.

In her blog, the mayor chastises those who “finger point” and complain about how the city is being managed. Guelphspeaks is guilty as charged but won’t get into a finger metaphor.

She should listen more carefully to what citizens are really talking about before accusing some of “finger pointing.” I guess being in total control of the city administration for seven years, it comes as some surprise that a lot of people don’t agree with her worship or her cast of sycophants.

This week, the first stage of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) investigation into the GRG petition requesting an audit of the city’s finances and operations took place. Representatives of GrassRoots Guelph met with MMAH officials. The officials also separately interviewed representatives of the city administration.

GRG presented with officials with a copy of the internal auditor’s overtime and absentee report plus additional background information on other recent events that have contributed to the petition’s thrust claiming mismanagement by the city administration.

The officials cautioned that resolution of these issues would take some time. What was important to GRG was the Ministry officials’ analysis of the petition numbers validated their accuracy.

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12 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

12 responses to “Now we know why the Internal Auditor fingered the transit workers

  1. paul phelan

    Thanks for the update and your endless efforts at doing right for the city, Gerry….Paul Phelan

  2. Joe Black

    Privatize them all. Transit ,garbage pick-up ,hydro, snow removal

    • paul phelan

      to privatize would threaten job and pension security so that is not the answer but a big change is definitely needed

    • Paul Phelan: in 2010, one of the first things Toronto City Council did was to privatize garbage collection on all properties west of Yonge Street. The city is now planning to privatize waste collection east of Yonge Street. How it was done in terms of job security and benefits is something I’m not aware of. But it apparently has saved the city considerable money. It is worth investigating. The present political culture in Guelph depends on union support. Also 80 per cent of all city employees are unionized. This could be a major hangup to reach an agreement with the unions some of which have recently signed new collective agreements.

    • Privatization is working for those services in other municipalities, it can surly work in Guelph! If it impacts job and pension security that’s just to darn bad isn’t it! Too much tax payer money goes to the union workers and for what? $5 million in overtime pay it appears!

    • Paul:

      Joe:
      Horrors! Privatizing these facilities would give the Mayor an infusion of cash to spend on more of her Social Engineering Agenda.
      Just take Guelph Hydro for example. It probably has a net worth of more than $150 millions. Hydro1 would leap at the opportunity since they would like to have more customers per square mile. Or Horizon and two or three other Distribution companies would jump into the bidding and the net cash offers would escalate. Realtors love a bidding war!
      When the City cashed in the mortgage of $30 millions Guelph Hydro was able to get a better rate in the Market and reduce the cost of “borrowing”. So the net worth of Privatizing Guelph Hydro would generate a minimum of some $120 millions for this free spending Council to fritter away.
      The same applies to Transit, Waste Management and Snow removal. Privatizing all of these services could only be accomplished if the surplus on disposal of operating assets was limited to reducing the City Debt. I doubt very much that this Council would do that. Fearless prediction – another 8 to 5 vote!
      So I suggest that privatization be deferred until such time as we have a Council that is financially prudent.
      Now I have to admit that the privatization of these services could result in a cash infusion of around a half a billion dollars, and the proper disposition of these funds could result in a debt-free city with some healthy reserves so the City could act in a pay as you go manner. However some organizational structures would have to be changed and possibly eliminated. Furthermore the City would have to be very careful about the risks of privatization. One of the dangers is that the City would be establishing some powerful private Monopolies and this could be a problem down the road.
      For example the Holding Company set-up as implemented by Council over the past seven years is one which holds a second Holding Company which holds the operations of the different operations of the former Guelph Hydro Inc.
      Citizens can only get financial information on the City owned Holding Company. The truth of the Financial Operations of the Former Guelph Hydro are carefully preserved under two more corporate layers.

  3. Jeff

    Get rid of the unions and the City would save a butt load of cash. The ATU is costing us a huge amount.

    • Paul:

      Jeff:
      Close but no Cigar! Unfortunately the “easy” options are not easy.
      Closing down(decertifying) a union or unions is an expensive and time consuming process. The first step would be to ratify that Union staff agree with the direction. I suspect that there are government regulations on how to proceed, but I am sure it would be a VERY EXPENSIVE process and would set back bargaining relations by three or four decades. (Assuming the Union staff are prepared to support the decertification process – and why would they?)
      While it is easy to point a finger at the ATU and lay the problem at their feet, I am more inclined to question Supervisors at the City. After all Management Rights include the approval of overtime in advance. Unfortunately when things like Sunday and Stat Holidays bus services are approved overtime kicks in at – time and a half or Double time. That is what accounts for a certain portion of the overtime cost “overruns”.
      Two things have to happen:
      1. The City “management team” must adopt a more aggressive stance on staff contract negotiations and enter the talks with some serious goals on mind – matters like overtime abuse, excessive sick leave usage, overly generous retirement benefits, etc.
      2. The City “management team” must remember who they represent – the taxpayers and voters. Of course the voters must turnout to vote. Voter turnout in the 33% area is not acceptable. Remember that when voter turnout drops, the special interest faction increase in importance because they are motivated to vote for their supporters. How do you think we got into this mess in the first place?
      I agree Gerry – The Market Value of my property – Residential, commercial or Industrial – is not Council’s unlimited Credit Card.

    • Paul: Good analysis. I agree that decertifying a union is an expensive and messy procedure. I’m not sure it is even possible. That stuff is above my pay grade. It’s interesting that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford managed to convert the west side of the city to private waste collection. What happened to all those unionized city workers who performed the task prior? You hit it out of the park with the comments about the “city management team”. This was recently pinpointed in the internal auditor’s report about excessive staff overtime and attendance absences. The auditor is a brave woman and performed a great service to the city in exposing this serious problem that reflects directly on a culture of mismanagement. I doubt if any of the so-called managers will sit with her at lunchtime.

    • paul

      well said gerry

  4. Sean

    Compared to the “Private” Viva, Guelph Transit comes in waaay cheaper…so its not always gonna work boys and girls

  5. paul phelan

    well put paul

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