Gerding: City workers who took their sense of entitlement too far

Employee attitudes can change once your job is secure and difficulties with management skewer one’s viewpoint.

An honest day’s work for an honest day’s wage. That might have been the mantra for the labour movement back in the day, but things can change once your job is secure and difficulties with management skewer one’s viewpoint.

This week it was revealed that a covert investigation by the City of Hamilton has led to the firing of 29 city workers.

Almost all of those who were monitored by private investigators armed with video cameras and access to GPS tracking devices on the city trucks one day last October were fired—29 unionized employees and another two suspended without pay.

Their collective mistake was as members of a small army of city road crews, to leave the city works yard with a truck “hot box” of fresh asphalt bound for roads that needed repairs.

At the end of the day, the asphalt was gone and the workers confirmed their roads had been fixed.

In reality, the workers were drawing a day’s pay, in some cases, for just minutes of actual work.

The workers, instead, had spent the day in coffee shops, bars, at their homes or running personal errands.

What happened to the asphalt remains under investigation.

Hamilton’s public works committee chair called it “unconscionable” for the workers to do less than an hour’s work for a full day’s pay.

While working just one hour is admittedly a little drastic, I can remember my years working as a campus janitor at UBC in Vancouver on weekends with the same attitude.

Rarely did I ever have to work a 7.5 hour day to qualify for what then was a great paying job for a student, and my co-workers and I had little trouble justifying that. It wasn’t an attitude I came in with, it was learned and imposed on the job.

I can remember during workdays with my two or three shiftmates going downtown in Vancouver for breakfast, watching sports events like a Stanley Cup game or the Super Bowl on a faculty lounge television to kill a Sunday afternoon…and we always were able to justify it in our minds.

Spending hours of idle time, when in theory we should have been working, was a factor I always felt encouraged me to pursue journalism as a career, because I wanted to do something beyond just killing time between punching in and punching out five days a week.

In the Hamilton situation, the city expects the fired workers to grieve losing their jobs, and their union will be obligated, no matter how damning the evidence, to do so because they are union dues contributors.

I’m sure there will be no shortage of people lining up to fill those job openings, but in time that gratefulness will probably give way to being jaded  about their job situation as well.

Sometimes we just don’t know how good we have it, and when we do it doesn’t seem hard to convince ourselves to think otherwise.