2 city unions 'not happy' with Hamilton mayor's comments about police budget

Two unions representing city workers are upset by comments Hamilton mayor Andrea Horwath made about the police budget on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, 2 others share Andrea Horwath's view, saying police service is 'unique' and budget cuts 'hurt'

woman sits in office
Hamilton Mayor Andrea Horwath was among the police board members who voted to keep the $214.8 million budget as is and send it back to councillors. (Robert Krbavac/CBC)

As council debated its final budget Thursday, passing the police service's budget by a vote of 10-6, two unions representing city workers are asking for "fairness" in how the city and the mayor discuss funding for other departments compared to the police.

The unions told CBC Hamilton they are upset after Mayor Andrea Horwath said earlier in the week that discussing a reduction in police spending sends the message that police are "not valued." 

They also questioned why the police budget is treated so differently.

Horwath's comments came during a special Hamilton Police Services Board meeting Tuesday that was intended to review the proposed $214.8 million police are requesting from the city this year. Council had requested the review in late January in an attempt to trim the 2024 tax levy.

Two of the seven board members put forward suggestions to reduce the budget but their motions were voted down.

In response to one of the motions, Horwath said: "I worry that the message that we're sending to the service and to the people that serve the people of Hamilton is that they're not valued, and for me that's very, very problematic."

She said she felt it wasn't the board's role to look at the service's operations and "going into the details, I think, says we don't trust the people that work for the Hamilton Police Service ... and don't respect their contributions."

"This is a particular kind of service," Horwath said.

She also said it's "really dangerous" to compare the operations of a police service to the operations of a city and added she thought there could be ways to reduce financial pressures through the police service.

In the meeting, Horwath voted down all motions to reduce spending and didn't propose any cost-saving measures. On Thursday, she was one of the 10 council members who voted to pass the police budget. 

City is 'silent' about other workers, union says

Eric Tuck, president of Amalgamated Transit Unit Local 107, said he was "not happy" to hear Horwath's comments.

"It's not the song she was singing when we were trying to get resources for our contract," he said, pointing to how last year transit workers went on strike for a week demanding better wages.

ATU 107's membership includes 907 full-time members and 12 part-time members. The union says about 20 million passengers take HSR every year.

"I would think every worker and every city employee would be valued. Police services, yes they're vital but they're no more vital than any other essential service we have," Tuck said.

"Quite frankly, I think most cities pay too much for their policing and not enough on social justice. Maybe if we put some of those resources to social justice, we wouldn't need as many police on the streets," he said, defining social justice as programs like drug and mental health supports.

A person in a crowd shouts, holding a hand to his mouth.
Eric Tuck is the ATU 107 president. (Justin Chandler/CBC)

He also said police services may be different from other services but "that doesn't mean they shouldn't go under the microscope like every other service in the city."

The police board's chair has defended the budget process and the police chief has said the service is constantly looking for ways to be more efficient.

Greg Hoath, business manager for International Union of Operating Engineers Local 772, said his members, some 54 engineers and maintenance workers, are paid "significantly less" than other non-ticketed maintenance workers in the city.

He added workers at local water and wastewater treatment plants are bargaining in the fall and are preparing for a potential strike action.

"When the police budget is discussed, we do hear about retention and attraction of employees but when it comes to other essential service employees where similar issues exist, the City of Hamilton is silent," he wrote in an email.

"Fairness and equity are unimportant to the city."

Emergency services unions say police have 'very unique job'

Unions representing local firefighters and paramedics supported Horwath's comments.

Firefighters, paramedics and police officers are essential workers and can't stop working if they hit an impasse during labour negotiations.

"I'm of the mind police have a very unique job ... it's literally life and death," Rob D'Amico, president of the Hamilton Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 228.

"The support the mayor wants to give them is fantastic."

Mario Posteraro, president of OPSEU Local 256 which represents over 450 paramedics, said Horwath's comments weren't offensive or inappropriate.

"Paramedics, police and fire personnel are working in an ever increasing hostile environment with increasing expectations and demands for service resulting in significant personal sacrifice and surging work related mental health injuries.

"Cuts to police and other emergency services hurt and those cuts also cost, in areas not properly or appropriately considered by those who choose to selectively attack police and other emergency service budgets."


Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.