Monday, December 15, 2008

The battle for public opinion

"Bankrupt Street" photo used without permission; copyright Remi @ LiveJournal

In a previous post on the blog, we briefly mentioned an Ottawa Sun article that explored the battle for public opinion in the ongoing labour dispute between the ATU and the City of Ottawa. Since then, it has come up in a number of other articles, and it has an undeniable presence in websites such as this one and other focussing on the issues.

Recently, I received an e-mail a citizen sent to his councillor, in this case Rideau-Vanier Councillor Georges Bédard, expressing his support for the city's stance on the issue, despite personal inconvenience:
Dear Mr Bedard,

Although the strike has negative influence on my family, as we can't go to work and losing money, do not even listen to Mr Cornellier's dillusive comments, threats and cheap talk about dignity and pride. These people need to be taught a lesson. Although I am sure there are a lot of great people working for OC Transpo that do not share Mr Cornellier's greed and are positive of taking City's offer. However, it seems like OC Transpo transformed in to some form a dictatorship where only Mr Cornellier decided what to do and what to tell.

Mr. Cornellier,

My wife and myself are making less than OC Transpo driver. Does this mean we have less dignity? Play fair and be honest. Why didn't you go on strike in August? This is called blackmailing and I fully support the City which has been generous enough in these tough economic times.


[Names withheld]
And Saturday in the Ottawa Citizen, columnist Randall Denley suggested that there are issues far beyond financial renumerations for drivers at stake in this dispute. According to Denley, "The real issue here is who runs OC Transpo, the union or the management?" Of particular importance in understanding the city's position is the following passage, from Denley's column:
OC Transpo head Alain Mercier is not mincing words, saying that some senior drivers are cherrypicking easy routes and not doing a full day's work. The problem is an inefficient system of assigning work that allows drivers to pick and choose pieces of work that leave some drivers with slack days and others overloaded. The city wants to reorganize the work so that every shift constitutes a full day.

Mercier says the city can save $3.4 million in operating costs by making the shifts more efficient and it won't need to add 20 buses, a capital saving of $12 million.

Even in the contract the city is offering, workers will still get to choose shifts based on seniority, but the easy shifts will have been eliminated.

The odd thing is that the new approach to shifts is already in place on weekends and has been for years. OC Transpo wanted to extend the same approach to weekdays, and the drivers went on strike. The strike doesn't seem to make sense, and union representatives have done a poor job of explaining why it's rational.
In Sunday's Ottawa Citizen, Hugh Adami had another instalment in his series of 'The Public Citizen' columns, exploring the rationale for the sacrifices union members are making during the strike (which are significant)--and stating the obvious fact that they're not making friends out of their riders:
Yet, for the 100 or so pickets outside OC Transpo's office and main garage on St. Laurent Boulevard yesterday, many were actually talking about the dignity they are trying to protect with their decision to strike early Wednesday morning.

When they do go back to work, they know what's in store for them. They'll be getting icy stares from furious riders who found themselves without transit service on the day winter arrived in Ottawa with a fury. And they know countless motorists despise them for the long commuter delays. They are also aware that their decision to strike may ruin Christmas for their families.
Denley then had a quote from union members suggesting that if the city would leave the scheduling issue as-is (or as-was), they would be back at work the next day. He posed the question, though, whether the savings the city would have as a result of the scheduling change--$3.4M annually, plus a one-time savings of $12M in capital costs--justifies the strike from the city's perspective.

It certainly looks like the ATU is losing the battle for public opinion, at least at the moment. Carl Meyer outlined several editorials that Ottawa-based newspapers wrote--the Citizen, Sun, and Le Droit--and the common belief seems to be that the union is in the wrong.


Anonymous said...

Wow, Bedard answered someone's email?

He doesn't answer mine.

Peter Raaymakers said...

Actually, I haven't seen a response from Bédard; the citizen's e-mail was addressed to Bédard and Andre Cornellier, head of the ATU.

Anonymous said...

Take the scheduling off the table and drop wages to make up for the 3.2M of losses that causes.
If they don't want that deal then lock them out for 6 months.

Michael said...

There will be violence at the Juniors on boxing day, I would not suggest bringing your children to the games.