The Maintenance and Construction Skilled Trades Council
June 22, 2012
A recent Toronto Star article attempted to cast a doubtful eye on pricing for jobs undertaken by the TDSB’s maintenance and construction skilled trades employees. The story focused on five customer complaints out of approximately 190,000 annual work orders received by the TDSB’s maintenance and construction division. All the complaints were previously known and reviewed by TDSB supervisors and where resolved to the customers satisfaction. One complaint centered on a job that was completed by a private sector contractor, not the TDSB.
Despite having the facts, the Toronto Star’s headline story on the pencil sharpener ignored them. The charge for the pencil sharpener to a school was reversed in 2011 after a review of the job they found that a TDSB supervisor sent a carpenter to the job when it should have been done by the school’s Caretaker. The school was not charged for the work due to the error.
TDSB supervisors had to remind the Principal to use Caretakers for minor jobs. Ironically, the same Principal complained to the Star about the charge and later admitted in a conference call with TDSB supervisors and the Board’s skilled trades union that he did not disclose to the Star that the charge had been reversed back in November 2011.
The Star also knowingly omitted this fact from its story even though the email transcript between the Star and the Council clearly shows the Star knew that the charge was reversed and the school did not pay it.
In fact the record shows that Star omitted most of the Council’s responses to questions it asked about this and the other complaints that formed the basis of the Star story. A word-for-word transcript of all the Star’s questions and the response by the Council is now posted at our web-site (www.tradescouncil.com/media2.htm).
The TDSB’s construction and maintenance division receives approximately 190,000 work orders annually. Its employees are committed to providing our schools and other facilities with quality construction and maintenance services, fair pricing based on fair wage and competitive bidding on jobs that go to tender. Pricing for jobs and tendering is overseen by TDSB
supervision, that includes signing off on all prices and quotes.
While both the union and management strive for 100% satisfaction, invariably there are occasions where we fall short. What is important is that we identify errors and resolve them and that we are committed to providing a customer dispute resolution process.
Unlike other school board’s in Ontario, the TDSB’s skilled trades employees are often required to bid on medium and large scale construction jobs against outside private sector construction contractors.
The tendering process has the benefit of ensuring the TDSB gets competitive prices and often drives down the price it pays for a job. The bidding and pricing practices must undergo periodic independent review and reporting to ensure ongoing fairness and transparency in the entire process.
The Star asked the Council about specific instances of employee misconduct based on “sources” at the Board. The Council expects the best from its union members each and every day and does not condone on-the-job incidents of misconduct by any union member.
Our members are employees of the TDSB, not the Council, and as such the Council only discusses issues of employee misconduct with its TDSB supervisors or the Board’s Human Resource Department in respect of employee privacy and due process. Most professional organizations have the same policy.
While the TDSB, and not the Council, hire skilled trades employees, the Council has a responsibility to represent the best interests of its members. We also defend their right to privacy and due process and we only discuss employee disciplinary matters with TDSB management.
Finally the Star asked the Council about its political contributions to Trustees, provincial politicians and political parties. The Star points out in the transcript that, “There is of course nothing wrong with donating.” However in an email from the Star later yesterday evening its reporter informed the Council that the Star be “revealing” the Council’s political dominations, even though political donations to political parties for example, are a matter of public record.
In the Council’s email response to the Star about donations it said:
Some Trustees, provincial politicians and political parties solicit political donations and hold fundraising events. That is, after all, how politicians and political parties raise money for elections. As CUPE and the teacher federations participate in these requests and events, so does the Council. Political donations are passed through the Council’s political action committee and decisions to donate and direct donations reflect the best interests of our members.
For more information please contact Jimmy Hazel at :
June 22, 2012
The Toronto Star Interview Transcript
The Toronto Star asked the Council to respond to a series of questions that have formed the basis of some published articles. We welcomed the questions and did our best to provide comprehensive and informative answers to five customer complaints relating to job pricing out of approximately 190,000 work orders annually.
One complaint dated back to 2011 and one complaint related to a job that was not even performed by the TDSB. At the time of the interview, all the complaints were previously known and reviewed by TDSB supervisors and were resolved.
Regrettably most of the Council’s responses have yet to appear in any newspaper story. In fact, so glaring were the omissions, we believe more transparency is needed and therefore we are providing our members and other interested parties the actual word-for-word, un-edited email transcript of the questions and answers.
There have also been some follow-up questions and in some cases claims by the newspaper based on hearsay and un-named sources about the unionized TDSB employees in the maintenance and construction division. We simply did not engage in questions relating to such claims.
While the TDSB, and not the Council, hire skilled trades employees, the Council has a responsibility to represent the best interests of its members. We also defend their right to privacy and due process and we only discuss employee disciplinary matters with TDSB management. Most professional organizations have the same policy.
We are also told by the Star in an email to Jimmy Hazel from their lead reporter Kevin Donavan, that this Saturday morning: ‘We (the Star) are going to focus on the political donations made to trustees and the Liberals by your council, affiliated union, and specific union members including yourself (we think he means Jimmy Hazel). We will also be revealing that trades (who have contacted us today) feel pressured by you to deliver pamphlets for trustees and provincial politicians in various elections.’
Readers will want to take a moment then to read the first set of Q&A and towards the end of these questions this matter comes up and you will note the Council’s answer. Readers might also want to know that political donations are a matter of public record and are required to be reported by the recipients and the political parties. We wonder how a union’s political donations and political action could hardly be a `revelation` since everyone from most trade unions, doctors, teachers and big business corporations all make political donations and many participate in political action locally and provincially.
Note that in all the Q&As below, the questions are posed by the Star’s Kevin Donavan and the answers are provided by Jimmy Hazel after consultation with and information provided by TDSB management.
First set of Q&As
1. Sir John A. Macdonald Collegiate Institute, 2300 Pharmacy Rd.
We are looking at two jobs here:
EXAMPLE: A $17 pencil sharpener installed in Room 208 in the fall of 2009. This was done on a work order.
The job was billed or charged at $143 or perhaps more to drill four screws on the pencil sharpener into the wall.
Q: Why did it cost $143 for a work to drill four screws into a wall? Why did the caretakers at the school not do this very simple job?
A: In this particular instance, a skilled trades worker (carpenter) was mistakenly assigned to this work order. Since amalgamation and the tri -party agreement, under schedule A of our CBA (page 71 ), the onsite caretaker can and should perform tasks like the installation of a pencil sharpener.
Sending a skilled trade worker to a site for a small job carries an hourly rate which would not make the job economical for the school and would not constitute the best time use of skilled trades workers. School principals are asked to assign such small jobs to their onsite caretaker.
As result of the miss-assignment, the cost to the school was removed. A brief memo to the school from the Facilities department notes the miss-assignment, the cancellation of charge and a reminder that jobs of this nature should in future be assigned to local on site school caretakers.
2. Sir John A. Macdonald Collegiate Institute
EXAMPLE: The electronic sign on the front lawn of the school. It cost $20,000 for the purchase of the sign and another $20,000 for the labour to install it.
Q: Please explain why it cost $20,000 in labour to install this sign.
A: Schools have different kinds of signs – some can be changed manually which are cheaper and easier to install. In this case the sign was double sided digital, larger and heavier than most signs (for example, a crane (which had to rented) was needed to place the sign in the footings) and is digital (like a small jumbo tron) with voltage requirements that exceeded the existing electrical line capacity.
The sign is also data wired to allow for remote use by a computer from inside the school. In addition footings as well as new electrical lines had to be excavated, and the ground restored after excavation. All of these types of cost and more were itemized in detail with estimates and provided to and approved by the school as well as TDSB’s Facilities Team Leader before any decision was made to proceed with the purchase and the installation. The final invoice in fact came in $2,142.00 under budget.
As for the price of the sign, you should also know that the TDSB procured this particular sign product (double sided and electronic) and selected the lowest bid for the product.
3. Albert Campbell Collegiate Institute, 1550 Sandhurst Circle, Scarborough
EXAMPLE: An electrical outlet plug was installed in the library in February 2012. Work Order # 51903355. It cost more than $3,000 to install.
Q: Why did it cost so much to install one plug? You mentioned that other jobs were folded into this one. Is that true?
A: Two issues occurred on this particular job. One was the requirement for extended wiring due to the location of the electrical outlet and power sources, which was not evident when the job was scoped. The second was an error in the data entry for the job. The price for the job was just over $1,000.00 and this is what the school paid, not $3,000.
4. Firgrove Public School, 270 Firgrove Cres., North York
This one relates to a job done by unionized employees for Inter-All. You may not have any involvement, but I thought I would get your thoughts.
EXAMPLE: A small galley-sized kitchen. Work was done in 2007 by Inter-All Ltd. Cost was $250,000.
Q: Please describe the materials used for this kitchen. What type of wood was used for the kitchen cupboards? What was the flooring? Was the equipment (stove, microwave and refrigerator) included in the contractor’s $250,000 fee?
QUESTION: Please explain exactly what type of work was done on this kitchen to justify the $250,000 cost?
A: The Council did not undertake this job and therefore it would be inappropriate to comment on the cost of the job without knowing the full scope and specifications for the job, materials used and without knowing if any change orders occurred during the job.
5. Lambton Kingsway School. 525 Prince Edward Drive. Toronto
The Council did the work on the playground and I believe fundraising paid for the work. Our understanding is that the cost was quite high and that parents at the school believe that by hiring the Council it added $100,000 to the bill. Please shed some light on this if you can.
A: Some parents at the school are mistaken about the costs. The job was in fact tendered and six contractors as well as the In-house construction department bid on the job. The in-house construction department was awarded the job based on the fact that its price was the lowest of all the bidders. Had the in- house construction department not responded to the tender, the school would have paid more for the job.
Q: There are other examples, and I would also like to hear the paint example you gave me over the phone (you mentioned space suits due to asbestos). Overall, we want to understand how the process works. We have spoken to the TDSB and are attempting to get them to provide answers to similar questions. Our understanding is that last year the Council did about 1.8 million hours of work on TDSB properties. Our concern, based on interviews, is that Toronto schools are in rough shape and given the amount of hours worked, conditions should be improved.
A: The process you refer to is fairly straight forward. The Council is the only division of the TDSB that must demonstrate competitive pricing by bidding on TDSB jobs. Small jobs may go direct to in house department depending on the scope, cost, complexity and cost of procurement. The competitive bidding process helps ensure competitive prices drive down the price to the lowest bid, creating savings for the TDSB costs. Outside contractors are needed and on many occasions are awarded contracts. In some large scale jobs, the in house construction department would not have the man power or the equipment to consider bidding for such work.
You should know that the competitive bidding process under goes audits to ensure its working properly and fairly. An independent consultant reviews the process and reports its findings.
In the case of the pencil sharpener, obviously this would not be a bidding process and in fact the in-house department carpenter would normally not be dispatch for this kind of job, leaving this to local caretakers. The Council in fact has helped train local caretakers to tend to small jobs of this nature.
The TDSB has many schools and related facilities that are more than 70 years old. For the last several budgets of the Board, the Trustees voted to defer maintenance expenditures. At the moment the backlog is about 3 billion dollars. This is a very substantial and alarming backlog and likely the highest it has ever been for TDSB schools and buildings. Without maintenance and care, small jobs can grow to larger problems, requiring more money.
Consider the average house as a practical example. Proper and regular maintenance to air conditioning and heating systems, windows, roofs and doors and minor wear and tear can and will result in lower repairs costs. But if you don’t tend to these minor issues, they can become quite significant and small repairs will no longer get the job done, requiring replacement. Leave a roof that is showing wear and tear unattended and you will find that the cost to repair is close to the cost to replace the whole roof. The same holds true to schools.
You will need to speak with the Chair of the Board regarding the year after year decisions to defer maintenance allocations. We have as a Council, cautioned the Board about this and the implications for school repairs, renovations, upgrades and maintenance.
Age of schools often means even jobs which on the surface and to the untrained or unskilled eye would appear minor can become quite significant and costly.
Re-wring can often require full removal or containment of asbestos in ceilings, around pipes and even in floor tiles. The safety standards and codes must be adhered to for the safety of students, staff and workers doing to the work.. Similarly painting old schools and classrooms often requires the removal of 50 year old paint which by today’s standards would not be acceptable, since older paint often contains hazardous chemicals and residuals that must be removed according to safety codes and disposed of according to hazardous waste codes. The actual painting job may in some cases be less than the work to remove, contain or dispose of hazardous materials.
To give you an idea of the rigour involved in some paint jobs that involve hazardous, consider the following procedures which are required:
This work must be done after hours with no staff or public in the area.
The ventilation system will be shut down and sealed in case of contamination.
The work area will be sealed off with the appropriate warning signs and caution tape.
The workers must dress in hooded suites (like space suits) with head and boot covers and gloves.
The workers must wear appropriate breathing apparatus.
The lead residue paint that was removed must be then put into numbered containers and then picked up by a certified hazardous transportation company.
The asbestos material that was removed is put into specially marked Asbestos bags and sealed and then transported to Bowmanville Hazardous Waste Site.
This transportation is done by TDSB in-house staff specially trained and certified to perform this task.
Q: We also would like to know the process whereby the council, and affiliated members, make political donations. We have collected information and note some significant donations to certain trustees and certain provincial politicians. There is of course nothing wrong with donating, but we are curious how you decide how to donate and to whom.
A: Some Trustees, provincial politicians and political parties solicit political donations and hold fundraising events. That is, after all, how politicians and political parties raise money for elections. As C.U.P.E. and the teacher federations participate in these requests and events, so does the Council. Political donations are passed through the Council’s political action committee and decisions to donate and direct donations reflect the best interests of our members.
Q: Another issue is the 0.5 per cent or 1 per cent that a sub trade must pay to the Council when they do a job. Please explain that to me. How much is collected and where does the money go?
A: Union workers who work on jobs whether in house or contracted at the TDSB are represented by the Council. They must pay union dues to the Council. You may not be familiar with the construction industry when it comes to union dues, but this practice is quite common. These dues are collected by the Council, just as professionals pay fees to their organizations, be they teachers, nurses, etc.
Not surprisingly the TDSB and the Council agreed to a dues check off of .05% on the total awarded contract price. This was agreed to because of the heavy burden of administrative cost that would be associated with any other way of trying to collect these dues. This is a dues check off and not a cost added item to any project. All Union Contractors are aware of this procedure and practice.
Second Set of Questions
Q: We are told by trustees and principals that they are very nervous about speaking out against the Council and you in particular.
A: For the most part I would characterize Council’s relationship and my relationship with the Board as very productive, open and professional.
Q: In one case, you told a principal you would have him “fired” for speaking to the media about a situation (the pencil sharpener). Could you explain why you did this?
A: I can’t have anyone fired, but I expect professional accountability. As for speaking to anyone, about skilled trades employees at the Board, but perhaps more so with the media, we would expect nothing less than honest and complete information.
The information the Star received from a Principal was incomplete and inaccurate. In fact, when this matter was brought to the attention of both management and the skilled trades in 2011, we discovered that there had been an error made with respect to the pencil sharpener charge. The school was informed of the error and reimbursed the money and the school was reminded to use their local caretaker for this kind of job. But a few days ago, The Principal admitted to me he did not mention any of the above information to either you or your colleague at the Star. Knowingly giving incomplete information, and in this case wrong information (since the mistake was corrected and the charge was reversed — in fact there was no charge), can cause malicious damage to an employee or employees of the Board.
More over Kevin, a considerable amount of time has been spent to retrace the steps and fact find the matter a second time only to find, an error had been made , the charge was reversed and that the matter had been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction back in 2011. Considerable time has been taken to revisit this matter, check the records, search emails consult with managers all based on careless and incomplete information given to a reporter is a gross misuse of TDSB employee time and resources. I will be raising this serious matter with the Director as I said I would. For all of the above reasons, this is a serious matter and had it occurred in any other employee groups, the outcome would be serious, up to and including termination. I also mentioned this in my conversation to the Principal when we spoke.
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. We strive for 100 percent accuracy. Our division at the TDSB has a customer service approach that allows and welcomes 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.
Third Set of Questions
I am adding one more example, for now. It involves the purchase and installation of a dishwasher at Owen public School in North York.
This was done roughly in the past six months. At the school there is the not for profit pre-school called Owen Community Learning Centre. The pre-school needed a new dishwasher and because they are housed in a school the trade council had to do the job. Our information is that the cost of the dishwasher, which was a commercial dishwasher, was $5,000.
The installation was billed at $5,000. Our information is that it was a simple installation, removing the old one, reconnecting the plumbing and the wiring. People involved with the community learning centre have told us that they observed two trade council workers do the job and they were there for a morning. Based on their billable hours, this $5,000 charge seems excessive. Could you please look into this?
A: the TDSB management has the record of this job and at time of posting, the answer is pending from the TDSB.
Forth Set of Questions
Q: We have been told that eight council members have recently been fired for cause by the TDSB. We also understand that (I mentioned this in our original discussion) some council members (not all) have been found to be doing non-work things during TDSB hours. For example, found at a bar, found in a car or van with a female, found delivering pamphlets for an external paving job using TDSB equipment. Certainly, many of your members have called to explain how hard they work. And we understand that. However, many of your council workers have called to complain about some of their colleagues. Among the complaints levelled are complaints about members of your extended family who have jobs at the Council.
A: Our members have a very strong work ethic. Specific employee matters should be directed to the TDSB.
A: The Council does not hire trades people, the TDSB does. Questions about hiring should be directed to the TDSB.