CUPE union members block the gates to the refuse transfer station in Windsor on April 15, 2009.
Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star
Someone close to me suggested I let the 10th anniversary of Windsor’s historic 101-day city hall strike slip by without comment because nothing good comes out of picking at old scabs that have yet to fully heal.I wish I could “just let it go” but that would be turning a blind eye to one of the most important events in Windsor’s evolution, its whirlwind transition in the hot and nasty spring and summer of 2009 from a “militant union city” to one in which unions remain important actors but no longer run the show.It would be a stretch to call the showdown between CUPE Locals 82 and 543 and city hall Windsor’s finest hour. But, in hindsight, it was an epic turning point when Windsor residents, most of them card-carrying union members, decided they wouldn’t submit to bullying and intimidation from handsomely compensated and layoff-proof city employees.In the comparatively prosperous Windsor of 2019, it’s easy to forget just how dire circumstances were here when more than 1,800 CUPE members chose to hit the bricks.We were in the midst of the Great Recession that rocked the global economy. Chrysler was on its back with its workers and pensioners praying for a miracle rescue by Fiat. Windsor’s real jobless rate, including people forced onto welfare, was estimated as high as 24 per cent.This city was a basket case. Reporters flocked here from far and wide to write juicy post mortems about a former industrial heavyweight with no future.It was in this setting, with people worried sick about their future, that CUPE chose to go to war in defence of gold-plated retirement benefits for workers not yet hired, a huge unfunded liability for city taxpayers.I remember, early in the strike, visiting the Windsor Disposal Services facility south of the E.C. Row and seeing a huge line of pickup trucks, vans and cars with drivers patiently waiting to dump their own garbage. These were real, salt-of-the-earth Windsor folks taking matters into their own hands. I knew, from that moment on, that city residents weren’t going to take that denial of basic services lying down.Appalled by the litter and overgrown grass in parks and playgrounds, people came forward with their own lawnmowers — at significant personal risk — to restore those community assets.The 2009 strike should be on the curriculum of business and labour studies courses as a classic example of how not to conduct a work stoppage.Whatever public sympathy the strikers might have had in the beginning soon evaporated with bone-headed moves like the harassment of downtown shop owners, that televised spectacle of grandparents and their little ones facing intimidation for picking up litter on the riverfront, incidents of vandalism and that public threat from a union official who resided in LaSalle to shut Windsor down completely.The contrast between the CUPE strike in Windsor, where the city took an aggressive stance, and a parallel one in Toronto where the civic leadership, led by NDP mayor David Miller, rolled over and played dead, was stark.In June of 2009 I wrote: “If Windsorites had reacted the way sissified T.O. residents did in Week 1, shrieking about the deadly horrors of stinky garbage, Windsor’s strike wouldn’t have lasted more than a week.” I added that there was “a hell of a story here in a union town’s resiliency and resourcefulness in the face of an unwanted labour siege. No babies here.”A year later Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis, who spearheaded the city’s struggle with CUPE, was easily re-elected. Miller, a Harvard-educated lawyer, chose not to seek another term “for family reasons” after polls indicated overwhelming public dissatisfaction with his lame handling of that city’s 39-day municipal strike. Miller Time was replaced by the Rob Ford show and we all know how that played out.The April 15 to July 24, 2009, Windsor labour showdown turned out to be the gift that keeps on giving. The city has saved literally tens of millions of dollars through the contracting out of garbage collection, parking enforcement and daycare operations just months after the strike ended, as well as through limiting future pension obligations.Even this new “progressive” council, after crunching the numbers in December, overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to put parking enforcement back in CUPE’s hands.It’s a shame many potential investors still think of Windsor as a militant union town and hard place to do business.Windsor proved, 10 years ago this spring, that it’s possible to be both a proud union member and a no-nonsense supporter of the city’s best firstname.lastname@example.org