fter a tumultuous month at CUPE 79 that included the resignation of President Dave Mitchell over allegations of misconduct involving by-law violations related to OMERS pensions, three candidates have jumped into the race for the presidency. CUPE 79 is one of the largest public sector unions in the country, representing over 20,000 members working for the City of Toronto, Bridgepoint Hospital, and the Toronto Community and Housing Corporation. Former President Tim Fitzgerald Maguire, who led the union until he lost the election in 2017, is one of the candidates. Maguire works as an Ontario Works caseworker. Since leaving the presidency he completed a Masters of Law degree in Labour Relations and Employment Law at Osgoode Hall Law School.
The election for the presidency of CUPE 79 will be held on Tuesday, May 24 in the afternoon. Results should be released that evening.
The Hoser: You're running for the presidency of CUPE 79. Tim, maybe tell me a little bit about your history with this union. I know you've been the president of it in the past.
Tim Fitzgerald Maguire: Okay, so I've been involved in CUPE Local 79 for over 30 years. I joined right away after my probationary period as a union steward, health and safety, back in the early 90s. I was a workplace representative and then executive in the late 90s. Then I was elected to full time union work, a unit officer representing a collective agreement within our union in an amalgamation. I then became elected as the unit officer representing a section of the city of Toronto full time workers. And then chief steward with about 200, 300 stewards across the city of Toronto Bridgepoint and TCHC (Toronto Community Housing Corporation). Then first vice president, and then president for six years.
So over 30 years of experience representing members of Local 79. About 15 years full time union work in various executive positions, including President for six years. And then I lost an election in 2017. Fair enough, I lost an election, it happens. And then I went back to school, and I did my Masters of Law part time. I now have a Master's of Law in labour and employment law from Osgoode Hall. I’m not a lawyer, but got the Masters of Law. And I was actually also starting to study paralegal because I'm not a lawyer. And I was starting to move towards setting up a consulting practice. “Tim Fitz Values Advocacy”, a play on both that I value advocacy, and the language that's been out there for the past 5, 10 years around aligning your actions with your values. So I was doing that kind of thing. I was going to start it part time and then at some point, looking at retiring from the City. I’ve been at the City for 32 years.
But then people started contacting me about issues happening in our local, and then the news broke that there were actually some misconduct issues. I was urged to run again, asked by several members to run again, who were upset about what's been happening. They thought I had both the experience and the credibility both with members and with the public. I spent a lot of years being very vocal at City Hall around services around cuts contracting out, but I did it in a respectful way. You can assert our rights but still be extra respectful. So they thought I had the experience and the kind of persona that I had built for the local through our communications.
I decided to run again, to help aid in efforts to clean up the issues of misconduct. And to move forward to doing some of the other things we need to do representing our members in the various divisions of the city. Because there are lots of issues, pre-pandemic, ongoing, and pandemic oriented issues that need to be addressed. And it's harder for us to address them with credibility if we have this kind of hanging over our head.
TH: The union has over 20,000 members in Toronto, it's enormous compared to most. What strategies are you going to take to re-engage members? Because obviously strength comes from the members being active underneath the leadership. What types of tactics and strategies do you want to employ?
TFH: I would say any leader has zero power if they don't have the member power behind them. Some of it will be going back to some of the things we were already doing. We had started a strategic planning process when I was first vice president. And then as president we did like three or four phases of that. That core member engagement, getting out to workplaces as much as you possibly can. We had moved the local from having zero electronic capacity, zero emails collected in 2010, to by the time my second term was over in 2017 having over 10,000 contacts’ information from our members, emails. We hadn't moved into texting yet, but we were starting to do that.
But that was attached to going out to many, many workplaces and having conversations with members, group conversations or single conversations. And some of this is to others’ credit. The CLC (Canadian Labour Congress) had an effort to get out there and have conversations with individual members, and CUPE National had a program around that. We partook in it as well. I was inspired by that and I took it to heart.
We went out and combined it with our existing efforts around member engagement, building our database, communicating with members at least once a week by email, sending them updates as much as possible, and quite frankly also building towards whatever next round of collective bargaining was coming. Workplace engagement has been key, now we'll have to update the digital pieces of that. We'll have to update or update our capacity to do that and try new things. Lots of social media, I'm getting used to it. I did an Instagram post from a long term care home and I had the video sideways [laughs]. I was talking to a young worker in the rec center the other day and they looked at the social media tags, and they said, “Oh, are you going to do TikTok?” And I said, “Well, I put it on the flyer, which means I have to do some TikTok,” because I haven't really done it yet. I'm gonna have those skills, and we're gonna have to learn those skills as a union and get into the new area around technology, around how we engage members at this time, differently than we were before.
One of the things I've done over the years - and I can improve my communications around this piece - I always link to other unions, other community organisations that are or are allied, on common causes whether it's homelessness or other issues. And I deputed at City Hall on these kinds of issues. But members were always at the core, and I have to make that clear. Sometimes we have to support other social justice issues. But when we're engaging around a lot of issues, members are at the core, they have to feel and I have to get better at communicating that, making members feel that they are at the core, that they're at the centre of all the work we do, even when we're acting in solidarity with other groups.
I think I have to improve the way I've done that in the past and be clear about it, because some people necessarily get upset that they're paying their dues to you and you're dealing with other issues. I think we can accomplish both.
TH: Moving on to the question of the discovered malfeasance in leadership positions, how do you want to handle that if you take over the presidency?
TFM: I don't know that there was any money misallocated. The principal thing - and I'm not sharing anything out of school because it was already reported in the Toronto Star - our first vice president was found guilty of misconduct via a violation of the OMERS (a defined benefit pension plan in Ontario) bylaws by sharing that [information] with the president. It's against the bylaws. And I think the labour movement has to learn from this as well because I've been at conventions before where people that are doing work on members behalf on pension plans are accused of double dipping because they're receiving a stipend from their pension plan. Historically, they've been able to return that to their union. But OMERS made a bylaw change about seven or eight years ago saying that you can't do that. They see that as a violation of your loyalty to the pension plan. They don't want you involved in a financial relationship with another organisation. They want you loyal to them. And they don't want the appearance of a conflict of interest. Maybe not all pension plans have made that change, but it's very clear from the CUPE perspective, the OMERS bylaws, you can't do that. So that's the central thing.
I don't have a sense yet that there's deeper financial issues in terms of missing money, those kinds of things. The only way to find that out is for a forensic, deep, thorough audit for the past few years, and let come what may from that. If there is anything else - and my sense is there isn’t but I don't know, I haven't been in the leadership. I think the executive would be receptive to this. I think they've been talking about having an audit. If I'm elected president, I'm going to make sure every single T and every single dot and I is available to the members for their review. Everything. My sense is there wasn't any missing monies. [If there was] then whoever is due needs to be held to account. You can find people guilty of misconduct through an audit, but you also learn lessons in terms of how to account and how to be more transparent in processes. I think that's number one, it has to happen. Have it make it clear what's happened.
There was a line in one of The Star articles about people’s fear about coming forward. That has to stop. There can't be any harassment among people who have disagreements on how to represent members on any issue. The harassment has to stop. There has to be rules, training around anti racism, anti harassment training, training on finances. And those have to be backed by codes of conduct or conflict of interest rules. If there's a violation to have it made more readily available. I want to make sure that none of this happens again.
I went to May Day on Sunday as you know. People from other unions were approaching me and saying, “you guys got to get this cleaned up, it’s a pall on us all. We’re all affected.” And I think it's right.
There were two incidents in the same week that this was found out. There's another incident in the labour movement. The other union, which I won't mention, because I don't can't discuss their situation, but kudos to them. I might not agree with everything Unifor does, or any other union does. But that's not the point here. Kudos to them, their national executive got in front of microphones and said, “This is wrong. That's not us. This is what happened. We're going to clean it up. And it's not going to happen again.” I haven't heard that from my executive. When I go talk to workplaces, they're saying “We haven't been told what's going on. We're guessing.”
I've led two rounds of collective bargaining in very difficult circumstances. Doug Ford was mayor. Three years after our garbage strike, where our members were afraid to picket because they had only done it three years before. And then the first round of negotiations with John Tory. At the bargaining table John Tory sent people to do the exact same thing that Doug Ford sent them to do at our bargaining table.
A leader’s got to make tough decisions and communicate on tough issues. You don't hide. Maybe you’ve got to sit back and figure out a frame to think about it, what happened, how to express it. But you can't hide from it. Gotta get out in front and deal with it. You're a leader. That's what you have to do. The second thing is, we're gonna go into another round of very difficult negotiations in 2024/25. I've told members when I'm out campaigning, if I were in this election, I intend to enter the next [leadership] race in 2023, to lead the local in that round of bargaining. We can't go into this with this [OMERS problem] over our heads. We have to be very clear about what happened, move forward and begin to represent members on the various issues that are happening in the workplace, and prepare for that round of bargaining. It's going to be a tough round. It is predictable, foreseeable, that our employers will want to sink the costs of the pandemic into our members. [The three employers are] the City of Toronto, Toronto Community Housing Corporation, and Bridgepoint Hospital. They've each had significant costs in the pandemic. I get that. There are going to be budgetary issues and we're gonna have to monitor that. And if there are potential cuts to services and jobs or hits at our collective agreement in 2024/25, we have to be better prepared to be smart about it, but stand up to it.
Our members, including myself, I'm an essential worker right now. Some of my co-workers have COVID as we rotate back into offices. I've been fortunate to work from home, and I haven't had to interface with that. We've all gone through the pandemic. But as we deal with those kinds of issues, we're going to need more credibility than we currently have.
TH: You kind of already suggested a little bit about this in two of your other answers, but as CUPE 79, you guys have a view of the City of Toronto that is greater than probably any other public sector union because you just have people in so many different places. Simultaneously, you personally, but also some of the membership and some of the executive have the perspective that resources and energy should be put towards not just being at work and representing members, but also being a union that is part of the community in a way that supports other efforts. Tell me a little bit about why that's important to you and to 79 in a city like Toronto?
TFM: Well, in some ways, it gets back to what I was saying earlier. I have to get better at how I do this work on how I explain it. But we're not an island, right? We're part of the community. Our members deliver services to Toronto's communities, they deliver the services that in part make Toronto what it is. Some forces want to cut those services. The current Premier spent years at City Hall trying to cut those services [and] contract out that work.
I don't think historically, we've played this kind of community role. I'm going to be quite frank: I think I started a lot of that work. I think we can continue and even do better. We have to balance representing our members on their core issues, but also working in allyship with other people on other social justice causes. Sometimes the interests are identical. In 2017 I deputed [at City Hall] along with Cathy Crowe and other activists in the homelessness space, because it was important to provide more shelter beds. A state of emergency was declared on homelessness. Some of those shelters would be Local 79 members’ jobs. Some of them wouldn't, they would be out-of-the-cold beds. We have to be involved in the community because one, we're not going to maintain the jobs and services we provide without community engagement with other allies. We're just not going to do it. And you don't build that allyship, those relationships, by coming on one off campaigns asking for their support when you go to bargaining. You don't have a relationship. That's a transactional relationship. We don't need that kind of relationship. We need the kind relationship where there are some things we're gonna fight on together. And sometimes you're gonna have disagreements. But I I think our members are embedded in communities delivering services to communities, varied services that make a big difference.
It's all the more important now because coming out of the pandemic, if we have learned some of the systemic issues that have made the pandemic disproportionately worse in some communities, it doesn't mean it didn't happen to everybody. Everybody suffered from the pandemic. I have 31 year old twins. In the last six weeks both of that COVID. It hasn't been easy. Fortunately, they're recovering. My daughter still has fatigue impact. But everybody’s been through it. We cannot deny that racialized communities have had dramatically higher impacts. The services that are provided or not provided in those communities are very important.
If we're going to use a couple of phrases: “just transition”. We need a just transition where communities and workers are respected, and their lives are improved. Should something come up again, they're more likely to be protected. We need to “build back better”. Those two common phrases. Sometimes these common phrases that are used by unions and other organisations aren't necessarily understood. It means better jobs and better services going forward for everybody. We need to be in alliance with recipients of services, with other organisations that support those city services, like public health, people that do work on the determinants of health, for common cause. We need to be trying to hold the city to account as well, as we hopefully build back better and have just recovery. That's not going to happen just because it should happen. It's not just a coincidence that after the Spanish flu [of 1919] that we had declarations around [people’s] fundamental rights and protecting public services. It's not an accident that this happened after the last pandemic. And it's not just going to be coincidental whether it happens after this one. It’s going to be because people ask, get active and demand it.
Mr. Ford said he was done with the pandemic a month ago. The pandemic is not done with us. We're in our sixth wave, [with] maybe a seventh wave coming. I'm not a scientist so I have no idea. On March 21 the province dropped the public health protocols around masking and distancing. Cases were rising in the B.A.2 two variant [of COVID]. And the City of Toronto then dropped the mandates. Just because Ford's done with it doesn't mean the City of Toronto has to be done. Both could have happened differently. You can open things up, if the decision is to open things up and not have a lockdown. That's one decision. The decision to take away the fundamental pieces of protection around masking and distancing. To take those away at the same time, it shouldn't have happened. I have coworkers that now have COVID because they went back to work as the city decides what it's going to do. It doesn't make sense that those two measures were taken away as people go back to work. There are lots of fundamentals around health, public health and protecting workers and the public. We need to be there now talking about those issues through my campaign and my social media. And I'm talking to workers, I'm going to be talking about those issues. In a way, this is kind of refreshing to me, because I get to go out to workplaces and talk to people and I got to put it out there. What are the issues? And I'm going to continue to do that. And I'll continue to do that if I'm elected.
TH: Tim I’m sure you’ve been asked this many times over the past ten years or so, but have you considered running for political office?
TFM: I have been asked that a lot actually and I’ll tell you what I tell most people. The leadership of CUPE 79? It is a political office.