Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Ambrose to force vote UPDATED

Earlier this afternoon, federal labour minister Rona Ambrose announced that she will force ATU Local 279's leadership to put the City's latest offer to a vote of the union's membership. The Ottawa Citizen pre-emptively endorsed that action in an editorial in today's edition.

The date of the vote was not immediately apparent, a story in the Citizen reported.
Ms. Ambrose ordered the vote be conducted by officials at the Canada Industrial Relations Board, and that it be “held as soon as possible.” She left it up to the board to decide when the vote will be held but ordered that it take place no later than Jan. 9. There was no word Wednesday from board officials on what date they might choose.
The union had no comment in the story, which led coverage on National Newswatch as recently as 6 p.m. today.

UPDATE: Another story at reported that a vote will be held no later than Jan. 9, and it added that Ambrose "is also asking the industrial relations board to look at agreements between the City of Ottawa and the union regarding essential services. The board has the power to make orders and confirm or change existing essential-services agreements."

ATU 279 president Andre Cornellier's comments appeared in the CBC story:

Andre Cornellier, president of ATU Local 279, said he was "very disappointed" with Ambrose's "unprecedented" decision.

"We still believe strongly that the membership will reject the second offer," he said, adding that he believes workers will "react in a different negative way" to the forced vote.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Ambrose 'expected' to force ATU vote

Federal Labour Minister Rona Ambrose is expected to intervene in the OC Transpo strikeAccording to reports, a Conservative staffer has suggested that Federal Labour Minister Rona Ambrose is expected to overrule Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279 leadership and force them to put the City of Ottawa's most recent contract offer to a vote of the members.

Ambrose had asked Union leadership to provide justification for not putting the offer to a vote, and was expected to review their reasoning before making any decision. Her final decision could come sometime today (Tuesday). The outcome of the vote is not remotely clear: City leadership, including Mayor Larry O'Brien, believe that the offer should receive significant support from members, while Union membership is still confident they have the support of the majority of members.

It was unclear what Ambrose would do at first, because some suggested that invoking the section of the labour code that would allow the Federal Government to force a vote may set precedent towards such an action. It appears that Ambrose has decided that issue is not as pressing as that of finding a resolution to the labour dispute, which is now three weeks old.

Below is mainstream media coverage of the development:

Monday, December 29, 2008

UPDATE: The wait continues for potential federal intervention

There is little to report on the City's call for federal intervention into the weeks-old transit strike. To bring its readers up to speed, the Ottawa Citizen fronted its City section today with a piece recalling the City's request and the union's reaction.

The issue, of course, is whether or not federal labour minister Rona Ambrose will force a supervised second vote on the deal on the table for the union's members. The story buried this paragraph on the story's spill:
Union president André Cornellier has acknowledged that a vote could indeed split his members because the scheduling issue -- the key remaining barrier to a settlement -- affects only a few hundred bus drivers.

The city knows this too well, and is counting on precisely such an outcome. "We certainly believe that our offer is the best offer for all members, not just the privileged few," Mr. Mercier said.

There is no quote from Cornellier, however, backing up that claim.

UPDATE: The Citizen reported later today the first indication of when Ambrose might start to make a decision about intervening in the strike (emphasis ours):

Ambrose says she will decide whether or not to intervene in Ottawa’s transit strike after she receives and reviews submissions from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279’s leaders, which she expects by Tuesday.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Impasse in transit talks UPDATED

The Ottawa Sun is reporting that talks have broken off in negotiations between the city and the OC Transpo's Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279. is also reporting that the two sides have split, and they suggest that the strike is far from over. According to the Sun, "City spokesman Michael Fitzpatrick said union officials walked away from the table."

On the official website of the ATU, President Andre Cornellier made the following statement:

"The Union came to the table tonight [Tuesday] to settle this dispute, to put buses back on the road, but Larry O'Brien has made sure none of that will happen."

"Mayor O'Brien has ignored the expert mediator's recommendation, and the concerns of many City Councillors, he's tinkered around the edges of their last position, and not addressed a single part of the scheduling."

"The Mayor has ignored the original reasons for this scheduling system - he has decided it will be a long cold winter for Ottawa's transit users."
Mayor Larry O'Brien is scheduled to have a press conference at 10:45 a.m. Wednesday morning.

UPDATE: On his blog, O'Brien countered Cornellier's contention of the city being unflexible, and also mentioned that the City of Ottawa has made an appeal to the Federal Labour Minister Rona Ambrose to force union leadership to put the city's most recent offer to a vote in membership:
Last night the City of Ottawa provided a fair and reasonable offer to the ATU executive that included a 7.25% increase over three years, more sick days, a one-time payout to offset the City having full control of the scheduling rules and we also offered more benefits for the drivers.

The union executive has decided that this was not enough. They are asking for a wage increase of 9.25 % over the next three years.


Today the City sent a letter to Labour Minister Rona Ambrose asking her to intervene and permit a supervised vote of the members on our last offer – wage increase of 7.25%, more benefits, more sick days and some flexibility to the scheduling offer.

UPDATE: Limited injunction on picketers at World Juniors


The City of Ottawa is going to court to try to stop striking transit workers from picketing one of the venues for the world junior hockey championship when the tournament starts on Friday.

The city's lawyers will be seeking an injunction to block picketing by the Amalgamated Transit Union, and have a court hearing on the matter scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, said a memo from city solicitor Rick O'Connor to city council Tuesday.
The article was also in the Ottawa Citizen and the Ottawa Sun. More information on the results of the court appearance will be posted when it becomes available.

UPDATE: has reported that rather than fully allow or disallow picketers at the world junior hockey championships, the two sides were able to come to a compromise:
A small number of pickets with the union representing transit workers will be allowed, and only in specific areas, outside one of the venues for the world junior hockey championship as the tournament opens in Ottawa this Friday.

As a transit strike was in its 15th day Wednesday, Justice Charles Hackland of the Ontario Superior Court ruled that a total of 80 pickets will be allowed at the city-owned Ottawa Civic Centre Arena, one of two venues for the tournament Dec. 26 to Jan. 5:
  • Ten pickets at each of the four entrances of the city-owned Ottawa Civic Arena.
  • Ten pickets at each of the four entrances of Lansdowne Park, site of the arena.
The pickets are not allowed to block vehicle or pedestrian traffic, and must be set up for information purposes only.
I want to know why they can't come to a compromise on the more important issue. You know, the underlying strike.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Ottawa Transit Strike: Day 13

A lot of talks over the weekend, but no solutions came about. The nearer we get to Christmas, the less likely it is that there will be any solution until the new year. Which is sad for everyone involved, except possibly the city that is saving $3M a week while the strike is on.

One catch-all article posted on has the following headlines within itself:
  • Some local businesses are suggesting that the OC Transpo strike, combined with the unfriendly weather, has brought a 20-30 per cent reduction in consumer traffic;
  • To help people get to the mall, Bayshore Shopping Centre is offering a $5 taxi chit to shoppers who visit customer service with their receipts;
  • Some job hunters are being forced to turn down jobs because, without buses, they haven't got a way to get to their possible new jobs;
  • Some folks are losing jobs they had because they can't get in to work anymore;
  • Para Transpo has increased operations 10 per cent since OC Transpo service stopped;
  • And, finally, even if an agreement is reached, it would likely take a few days to a week for full service to be restored.
On, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279 President Andre Cornellier isn't very optimistic about the current negotiations, and he's not hiding that fact. But some picketers, according to the same article, have been noticing a swing in the battle for public opinion in favour of the ATU since their official website was launched about a week ago:

"Well, we're talking right now…When people are talking, things can happen," said Andre Cornellier, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279 Monday, while taking a break from negotiations with the City of Ottawa.

"But you know what, I'm not very optimistic right now . I wouldn't want to give anybody a false sense of hope or not."


Norm Deschamps, who has been driving an OC Transpo bus for 20 years, said he gets the impression that people's opinions have been turning in the bus drivers' favour since the recent launch of the union's website, which was last updated on Friday.

"We're finally getting some information out that has given [our] whole perspective of this strike to the public," Deschamps said.
And the Ottawa Citizen had a riveting report of no news in the negotiations.

Covering some of the losses from the transit strike

A couple of news items over the weekend (thanks to Cold Commuter for pointing them out), both having to do with covering some of the losses as a result of the OC Transpo strike.

First of all, according to the Ottawa Citizen, the City is apparently looking into ways of compensating businesses who've lost out because of the strike. According to the article, possibilities include tax breaks for the businesses. There were no motions put forward to compensate inconvenienced residents, though, many of whom pay surcharges on their property taxes for public transit. From the Citizen article:

As the city prepares to sit down with striking bus drivers today, municipal officials will be looking for ways to compensate businesses for any losses incurred by the transit strike -- a hunt that could even consider property-tax breaks.

The idea, put forward by Somerset Councillor Diane Holmes, passed by a vote of 16-5 after a closed-door council meeting on the resumption of negotiations with the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279, which represents 2,300 striking drivers, mechanics and dispatchers.
Also, with all the talk about the Salvation Army's kettle campaign taking a hit as a result of the transit strike, with volunteers unable to fill shifts and less people getting around, Wal-Mart Canada has announced a donation of $50,000 to the Ottawa Salvation Army. The Citizen reported that the donation, along with strong community support, has given the campaign a much better chance of meeting its $500,000 target:
This year, Ottawa's transit strike dilemma caught the company's attention. Before the donation was announced, the drive was about $60,000 behind what it should have been, said [Salvation Army spokesman Michael] Maidment.


Despite encountering a severe volunteer shortage during the strike, Mr. Maidment said the Ottawa community has come to the rescue, offering hope that kettles will be staffed for the remainder of the drive, which ends Christmas Eve.

"Folks have been coming forward with their own transportation, just to get the kettles out," he said, estimating that the organization has had about 100 new volunteers rush in to fill the gap.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Ottawa Transit Strike: Day 12

The resumption of negotiations between the city and the ATU is the biggest news item of the weekend, but a media blackout have rendered updates on the discussion few and far between.

Another big news update over the weekend, however, is added proof to a possible rift between ATU membership and leadership. The Ottawa Sun's Earl McRae had a column featuring OC Transpo driver Mike Kouri, who suggested that the union has misled its members while setting the stage to go on strike. From the story:
"I'm going to get a petition going with the drivers and have it shoved right in Cornellier's face. There's tremendous pressure on him to have a vote... Even if a majority of the drivers agree (to a new vote, or strike suspension) I doubt he'll go for it ... He has an intimidating way of doing things, he's all hard-nosed.

"It's time he realizes he works for us, it's the decision of the members, not him. Andre Cornellier does not have the authority to refuse to let us vote if we demand it.

"People are really hurting because of the strike, and that includes bus drivers and their families. They've got kids, mortgages and bills, too. It's (the strike) hurting businesses badly. In this world economic crisis, this is no time for a strike. Self-interests have to be sacrificed."


"I voted to reject because we were told you always reject the first offer. But it was not a vote to strike, it was a vote to reject. We were led to believe we'd have another chance to vote if it changed. Well, the offer did change in significant ways between Wednesday and a week later when he (Cornellier) called the strike, but he didn't give us a chance to vote on it."

Kouri has written documentation from OC Transpo general manager Alain Mercier -- dated three days before the strike -- revealing how parts of the offer had changed, such as the signing bonuses for drivers increasing to $2,000 from $1,400, sick days to eight days from six, and, wrote Mercier, "the changes being proposed by management will still allow workers to book quarterly in accordance with their seniority and therefore to work the daily schedule that suits their preferences ... seniority rights will be respected."

Friday, December 19, 2008

Alternative public transit: Car-sharing

I had never heard of car-sharing programs until I recently came across an article in the Halifax, Nova Scotia-based Chronicle-Herald. The idea, basically, is communal shared ownership of a number of cars coordinated by a managing body. Members make an annual payment plus an hourly rate when they use the car (in Halifax's CarShareHFX program, it is $250 annually, plus $10/hour for peak times or $3/hour for down-times. The fees are all-inclusive, covering fuel, insurance, and maintenance, and are charged directly to a credit card. According to the article, it's a successful system in some cities:
"The effect on congestion, parking and emissions can be spectacular. CommunAuto, Montreal’s car-share service — the first one in North America — reckons that 250 cars in its fleet take 3,500 cars off the road.

"In fact, car-sharing has become so mainstream that green property developers in cities like Ottawa are including car-share memberships in the amenities of their condos, and providing space for car-share vehicles to park right inside the building. Some foresee a day when the developer’s obligation to provide parking will be sharply reduced for buildings that incorporate car-sharing in their design."
According to the Wikipedia page on the phenomenon, there are more than six hundred cities globally that have some form of car-sharing program, including Ottawa's Vrtucar program. According to Vrtucar's official website, "You have 24-hour access to a fleet of cars stationed conveniently in Ottawa neighbourhoods." There are several different pricing plans for people with different needs, so check out the website if you've got any interest.

And if you're a reader from outside the Ottawa area, or you're travelling somewhere else, you can see a listing of cities with available car-sharing programs at For many people, the arrangement would be both cheaper than owning a car, less difficult, and better for the environment. And it offers another possibility for transportation, especially as the city's transit strike continues to drag on.

ATU's no-media policy a bad idea: Nepean This Week

Nepean This Week printed an editorial this week about ATU Local 279 President Andre Cornellier's refusal to speak with the media, warning that it's tantamount to refusing to speak with the public--and a failure to get your point across.
"Cornellier has adopted an innovative strike tactic.

"Hear no media, see no media, speak to no media.

"One might as well say hear no public, see no public, speak to no public. Other members of the media have reported similar problems.

"How incredibly misguided and how incredibly arrogant.

"Cornellier would probably tell us – we can only guess – that his only responsibility as union president is to negotiate the best possible contract for his membership.

"No argument there.

"But communication and public relation skills will play an important part in brokering that deal.

"This isn’t labour action at the auto plant or the local megastore.

"This is a transit strike.

"It has upended the lives of thousands of residents: making it difficult for people to get to work, go to the hospital, or travel to universities to write exams."
The ATU has finally gotten some word out about their case, after launching an official website yesterday: Still, without cooperation with and from the media, the Union's case will suffer.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Labour experts side against city

Both the union and the City are willing to restart negotiations in just a couple of days. In the meantime, the Citizen reflects on both sides' attitudes toward negotiations. The paper quotes two labour experts who believe that the City's hard-line stance on negotiations has been detrimental to both parties reaching eventual agreement.
Rosemary Waskett, chairwoman of the law department at Carleton University and an expert on public-sector labour relations. "The union feels now that this is being shoved down their throats. When this happens, it turns into a dignity and respect issue. It's very hard for a union to back down completely on issue like that. There needs to be a way out."
And from Saskatchewan:

Alan Levy, an assistant professor in the University of Regina's business department who specializes in labour relations, said the situation shows "stunted thinking" on both sides.

"The mayor has no business getting involved in this like that," Mr. Levy said. "Why politicize this? Why not allow the people you hired to do this, the labour relations people, do their jobs?

"This blaming is not going to accomplish anything. It's dysfunctional to the collective bargaining process. What's needed is level-headed people to come forward to find creative ways to reach an agreement. If the politicians were shrewd, they'd stay out of this."

Levy came up with one potential compromise to the scheduling issue that has, thus far, devastated negotiations.

Mr. Levy said the solution could be a experimental period allowing the city to do the scheduling, with a deadline to show the city's way works and is good for drivers. Ms. Waskett said the city and union could agree to the status quo for now while a scheduling alternative is worked on.

Negotiations may resume Saturday: CTV

According to the Ottawa Sun, CTV News has reported that the ATU is prepared to go back to the negotiating table with the City in an effort to solve the ongoing contract dispute as early as Saturday. No one from the city was able to confirm the report, but we will offer updates as further news comes out.

UPDATE (3:52): The story has been posted on the Ottawa Citizen website now (thanks Carl):
"For the first time since Ottawa's transit strike began, the city and the union representing its 2,300 transit workers are talking, and the union says formal negotiations will restart on Saturday.

"Mayor Larry O’Brien met with the Amalgamated Transit Union national representative Randy Graham on Thursday, and they agreed to seek approval from their respective sides to restart negotiations — with no preconditions from either side."

So, if we're lucky, this could be the beginning of the end. Here's to hoping.

A rift between ATU members and leadership?

The Ottawa Sun is reporting today that Andre Cornellier, embattled president of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 279 has been pressuring striking union members to picket in greater numbers in the downtown core, rather than at OC Transpo headquarters on St. Laurent Blvd, to increase the effectiveness of their pickets. From the Sun:

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279 president Andre Cornellier spent part of yesterday exhorting his union members to stop taking the easy way out, as picketing downtown was once again sparse at best.


"I came here the first day and there were 200 people here," Cornellier said at OC Transpo headquarters on St. Laurent Blvd., where a large contingent of workers were picketing.

"I wanted them to go downtown and nobody would go."
Although drivers and other members speaking out against their union are few and far between, this could be a sign of a growing rift between the union's membership and its members. In the face of intense public pressure, criticism, and--increasingly--hostility, drivers may be looking for a way to protest the city's hardline stance without angering the city's already-intensely inconvenienced publics. Of course, the Union's leadership, led by Cornellier, seems to be basing their decisions on what will create the largest impact on the city, and thus its citizens, in order to impress upon Mayor Larry O'Brien and the City's negotiating team how important OC Transpo and its drivers are to us all.

This decision, however, seems to be giving O'Brien more credibility and support in playing hardball (at least for the moment), while the drivers--many of whom would rather not be on strike--face the brunt of the public outrage. The citizens, after all, would be valuable allies in the ATU's fight against the City, but the union has been losing the battle of public opinion, to date.

Commuters: Patience is a virtue

The Sun reports today in a small news hit that commuters had a pretty smooth ride to work today, but that it won't last long:
A snowstorm expected to dump up to 10 cms on the region overnight is to be followed by another, more substantial, snowfall on Sunday. Total accumulations -- including the 10 cm which fell on Wednesday -- could be in the 40-50 cm range, and strong winds are expected to whip the snow around creating poor visibility.
Get this, though. The Citizen is being quite a bit more sensational than its print-media counterpart in a story headlined "Weather watchers warn of 'snow-mageddon'":
Wednesday morning was commuter hell in Ottawa and across much of southern Ontario, but it may have just been a warm-up for the “snow-mageddon” headed our way as two new storms fix their sights on the province.
Be patient, commuters. It could be a long few days.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

UPDATE: Backlash against a mayor: The SFUO calls for new negotiations

The Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) is circulating these postcards in both English and French. They are available at the student union's front desk and are being sent to Mayor Larry O'Brien. Notice the polite reminder about the U-Pass at the bottom.

The text on the back reads (in English):
As a University of Ottawa student, I rely heavily on public transit to get to school and work daily. This transit strike has left students out in the cold, especially during exam season. I am writing you to ask that you go back to the negotiating table with OC Transpo workers (ATU Local 279). Let's end this strike and enjoy our holiday season.

University of Ottawa student
UPDATE: In an interview with Public Transit in Ottawa, SFUO President Dean Haldenby expressed concerns with both the City and the union. At the end of the day, he said, the SFUO simply wants the strike to come to an end.

But when asked about some of the language used on the postcards pictured above, Haldenby said the SFUO has a lot of sympathy for the union's cause.

At the end of another post on this website, a commenter asked how students could support the union, given that it has disrupted many of their lives.

Haldenby was succinct in his response.

"The City is mistreating the union, just like they mistreated us with the universal bus pass," he said, referring to council's shelving of the U-Pass last month.

The story is a bit more complicated. As noted in another post,
Amalgamated Transit Union international vice-president Randy Graham had this to say to CBC News before both the University of Ottawa and Carleton University began operating private shuttles:
"Most of the bus companies would never ever do anything that would be scabbing our members ... We'll have to deal with it if it does occur. We have to do the things that we legally can do. And we will do it."
That kind of comment left some wondering what might happen if the shuttles did run. But they commenced operations and nothing happened. Haldenby said the union understood where the student unions were coming from.

"We told them that their battle was not with the students, but with the city," he said. "We explained the very specific reasons that we needed to run the shuttles -- for exams -- and ... they gave us the go-ahead."

When asked about what might happen if the union hadn't given the students "the go-ahead", Haldenby said he didn't want to comment on hypothetical situations. He added that the union never threatened any action against the SFUO.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Second strike averted, but first strike continues

Just yesterday, we reported that the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 5500, representing supervisors and transit special constables, voted 97 per cent in favour of a strike if it was necessary. You may be happy to know, however, that the strike didn't prove to be necessary, as is reporting that CUPE Local 5500 reached a tentative deal with the city on Tuesday.

Mayor Larry O'Brien, on his blog, used the positive news to express his confidence that the city is willing and able to negotiate with unions without resorting to third-party mediation, and to ask the city's other large transit union--the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 279--to meet at the negotiating table:
"This demonstrates that the unions and the City are more than capable of reaching an agreement through negotiations. It is much better to be sitting down at the table finding solutions rather than simply going to an outside party to work out important issues.

"I ask again that the leadership of ATU 279 come back to the bargaining table and deal with the important issue of scheduling. We want you to be there and I hope you will come back and work with our team to make Ottawa a better city."
Service remains shut down, however, as the dispute between the city and ATU 279 continues.

Tunnel study underway

Downtown Ottawa Transit Tunnel study areas
To offer a bit of a release from the constant strike-talk and political posturing between the City of Ottawa and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279, the City launched their website on the Downtown Ottawa Transit Tunnel (DOTT) today at The image above displays the DOTT corridor (grey shading), as well as the study area (red dotted outline). There are five anticipated stations in the DOTT line.

The tunnel or tunnels will take one of two forms: Either single tunnels under two adjacent streets, or both tunnels under one street. Below are images of either possible scenario:

DOTT: Two tunnels, adjacent streets
According to the above image (click to enlarge), which I captured from the Councillor's Briefing (.pdf), there appear to be three possible two-tunnel situations: Sparks/Queen (shown in yellow); Queen/Albert (in cyan); or Albert/Slater (in magenta).

The alternative would be running both tunnels under one roadway. Benefits to this approach would be that only one street would be disturbed, but the disruption would be more significant. The options are shown in the screen capture below:

DOTT: Two tunnels, one street
As you can see, the options outlined in the single-street option are Sparks (yellow), Queen (cyan), Albert (green), or Slater (magenta).

The majority of the options see the tunnel travel north to go under the Rideau Canal and along Rideau Street. The magenta option in both scenarios, however, most closely resembles the current Transitway, travelling under the Canal at or near the Mackenzie-King Bridge and stopping at the back entrance of the Rideau Centre (also beside the Department of National Defence building).

Considering how long it seemed to take to develop and accept the transit plan that this tunnel is a component of, the DOTT process is going to seem to move forward at lightning speed. A timeline of the upcoming events was available within the Councillor's Briefing, presented Dec. 16 to councillors and press:
  • December 16, 2008: Briefing for Councillors, launch of study website.
  • December 19, 2008: Evaluation results feedback from Consultation Groups.
  • Mid-January 2009: Consultation Groups – Meeting #4 (Refinements of evaluation; Initial design alternatives for expanded study area).
  • Late January 2009: Public Open House #1 (Alternatives and evaluation results for original study area; Introduce expanded study area and preliminary alternatives).
  • March 2009: Committee and Council presentation (interim report).

Public perception of unions during the 1980s

A basic academic rule is that old studies – especially those that are twenty years old – have extremely limited usefulness. But if they can't solve a problem, such studies sometimes still help inform debate.

As this blog has reported and commented on, there is quite a bit of hostility emerging as the current transit strike drags on. While violence and malice obviously shouldn't be encouraged, a 1988 study shows that the appearance of media to "go negative" against unions or at least favour management is nothing new.

Geoff Walsh analyzed the perception of trade unions in both media and by the general public at large in a 1988 issues of the International Labour Review. The following are excerpts from the article (found here, subscription necessary) that provide this debate some historical perspective:
The role played by the media, especially television, in setting the public’s “agenda” – defining political, social and economic issues by order of importance – may help to swing public opinion behind government or employer action against trade unions. In any event, there can be few unions today that do not recognise the crucial part played by the media in shaping their public image – and few that are not concerned about the dismal light in which they are generally shown.
Walsh referenced a number of telling polls from the 80s and decades prior:
  • In 1984, a Gallup poll "found that only 21 per cent of those surveyed had 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' of confidence in, and respect for, trade unions." They ranked behind politicians and corporations who were also included in the survey.
  • Back in 1976, a Canadian Institute of Public Opinion survey found that 67 per cent of respondents felt there were "too many troublemakers and agitators among union leaders" – 17 per cent higher than 1966 and 27 per cent higher than 1956
Walsh offered his thoughts about the polling:
What these polls may indicate is an acceptance of basic trade union rights as a feature of democracy, but a rejection of what the public considers to be their “irresponsible” exercise.
Interestingly, Walsh points to unions who recognize their PR challenges. They include the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which wrote in a 1985 report that "To put it mildly, this is what the professionals call "an image problem".

The Walsh study also shed light on the increasing wariness with which organized labour viewed mass media in the 80s. The U.S.-based AFL-CIO, for one, encouraged its members to differentiate betwwen "the bias with which the owners and managers of newspapers, radio and television stations often view unions [and] the ignorance from which many reporters and their bosses suffer."

This is likely not news to many readers. But it serves as a reminder that unions and management have long battled for the public-relations advantage (long before the 80s, of course), and unions have historically found themselves at a distinct disadvantage in that fight.

In the news: OC Transpo strike, Day 7

The biggest news story of the day has got to be Capital Councillor Clive Doucet suggesting that the costs of the strike aren't justified by what is being fought over (namely a new scheduling method that would reportedly bring $3.4M in operating-cost savings and $12M in capital-cost savings). According to the Ottawa Citizen:

“It’s lunacy,” said Mr. Doucet. “It should not have come to a strike.”

He said that 250,000 transit riders in the city are being hurt by the strike and businesses are seeing sales fall at a time when they should be booming. He said citizens have been pleading with him for the city to do something to end the strike.

Other headlines from today:
  • Ottawa police are reporting that the increased traffic resultant from the transit strike is a risk to public safety, according to the Citizen. Given the gridlock, police have had difficulty responding and arriving to emergencies, and ambulances may have difficulty navigating the traffic to respond to health emergencies.
  • According to, the city is cracking down on illegal 'underground' taxis that are frequenting carpool websites, stating that it's a public safety issue. Users of the taxis say that they're easier to get because not everyone knows about them, and they're cheaper.
  • Once again from, "poor kids" might not get as many presents from the Salvation Army's Toy Mountain campaign, because their parents will likely have difficulty getting to depots to pick them up. Combined with a shortage of volunteers able to get to posts, it seems the Salvation Army is going to be hard-hit by the work stoppage.
  • The Ottawa Citizen poses the question of Andre Cornellier: Confrontational zealot, or hero of the working class? (In slightly less hyperbolic terms.) I ask: Can't it be both?
  • Still on Cornellier, there are conflicting reports about reasons for his unavailability to media: 'A' News is saying that he will "only speak to media that reports favorably to the union", while is stating that it's because he's received "significant threats". I ask: Can't it be both?

Monday, December 15, 2008

The ATU isn't the only transit union in town...

And the Citizen reports tonight that another union representing OC Transpo's 140 garage supervisors, route supervisors, and special constables is currently bargaining with the city. If negotiations fail, however, CUPE 5500 could walk off the job on Dec. 23.

Both sides are still talking and the main issues are reportedly wages, working conditions, and benefits. Last month, the union local voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike, if necessary. Ninety-seven per cent of members approved the action if bargaining fails.

UPDATE: The National Post picked up the story this morning.

A call for calm

Reports on have said that the largely unpopular president of the ATU Andre Cornellier has received "significant threats" against his person as a result of his position in the ongoing labour dispute with the City of Ottawa, and word-of-mouth rumours state that a group has been threatening physical assault on bus drivers and that picketers were 'egged' while protesting earlier today. Even on this blog, violence is being approached as a reasonable measure during counter-protests, whether jokingly or not.

I would like to remind anyone and everyone that these are not the responses of rational individuals. It's a fact that no one is enjoying the work stoppage, and it is certainly very inconvenient--and in some cases, potentially dangerous to an individual's health--for everyone, but the right to strike is an inalienable right Canadians have to make. Whether or not you agree with the Union or whether you're on the side of the city, I ask that you make your voice heard in an intelligent manner: Comment on public forums, such as this blog; write a letter or e-mail to your city councillor expressing your opinion; write a Letter to the Editor in a local paper; speak civilly to protesters or stage peaceful counter-protests.

There are many ways to express disagreement or solidarity without having to resort to violence, and they will be more effective in getting your point across.

The battle for public opinion

Bankrupt Street: Frustration with the OC Transpo strike"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.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

FAQ on the City's redefinition of scheduling

On the OC Transpo's official website as well as Mayor Larry O'Brien's blog, head of Ottawa's transit services Alain Mercier sent a letter to president of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 279 Andre Cornellier offering a clarification of the 'redefinition of work' contained in the City's most recent offer submitted to end the strike. In the letter, Mercier explains that there is no 'block booking' in the contract, and that workers will still be able to select preferred routes and days off based on seniority. Here is the majority of the letter--including a number of questions drivers may be asking regarding the offer as well as the city's response--for anyone interested in reading (click the link above to read the entire letter):

What’s wrong with the way Operators book their work today?

Except for Operators who work on Straights, most Operators combine separate work pieces into workdays. No one can predict how this may play out. While senior Operators mostly pick Straights and Long Straights (20 to 23 years of seniority on average), the junior Operators are mostly left with Short 6’s and Long 6’s (1 year of seniority on average), which means they only get 2 days off every two weeks, whether they like it or not.

Some senior Operators pick to make the most out of guarantees, booking a minimum number of hours worked for a maximum number of hours paid. Other Operators end up with schedules that are not attractive to them: too few paid hours a day, long splits between pieces, long travel time (for reliefs on the street). Others turn to the spare board without knowing what each day will look like. Others yet book hours beyond what ought to be safe.

This is judged as unfair, unsafe and inefficient by management.

What does management propose to change?

Management proposes to organize the separate work pieces into workdays before they go to the board at Bookings, just like it does for Saturdays and Sundays. For workdays with a split, an Operator who picks a morning piece would have to take the afternoon piece with which it was already combined.

Clauses do exist in the Collective Agreement to allow this approach under Mixed Odd Work rules for weekends.

Is that “block booking”?

No. Block booking combines work pieces, work days and days off into a week’s worth of scheduled work (for example, Monday morning, Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday off, etc.).

In management’s proposal, Operators would still pick their work schedule for days separately, including days off, and thus make up their own workweek.

We believe it is unfair to your members to define the proposal as Block Booking and as you are well aware there are no references to this concept on the bargaining table.

Is management proposing to take away the Operators’ seniority rights?

No. Management’s proposal would not stop Operators from being able to pick their preferred routes, the shifts they work and the days of the week they have off. They would still be able to do this based on their seniority.

How would Operators benefit from management’s proposal?

By having management organize the workdays that go on the board at Bookings, it becomes possible:

• for Operators to build for themselves:
• more consistent work schedules (no one left with too little work time in a day);
• a 3rd day off every two weeks for those who were doing mostly Short 6’s;
• a 4-day week for those who decide to pick 10-hour work days.
• and for management to set up:
• guaranteed minimum recovery time between trips;
• guaranteed eight (8) hours of rest in a row in every 24-hour period;
• much reduced unpaid travel time between runs (relief on the street).

What if I had a preference for a certain type of schedule?

In management’s proposal, the different types of runs would actually increase, there would still be a spare board and Operators could still pick their preferred work schedules, by seniority.


Would management’s proposal increase the spread of my workday?

The maximum spread would not exceed 13.5 hours (12 hours on weekend days), just like today. For some types of runs, the number of hours worked (and paid) would increase within the spread. That is how some Operators could book an extra day off for themselves, if they’d like. In all cases, management would guarantee 8 consecutive hours of rest in every 24-hour period.

How would the choice of runs be different from what it is today?

Management simulated a Booking using your member’s preferences from the September 2008

Booking and including the new approach to scheduling. The results showed that the various straight runs (short, long, 10-hour, etc.) would add up to 50% compared to 54% today.

Similarly, the Short 6’s would go from 11% down to 3% while the number of Long 6 would increase from 6% to 18%.

How would management’s proposal affect Operators’ time when they are not driving?

Management would guarantee minimum recovery times between trips. Management’s proposal would also greatly reduce Operators’ travel time (for reliefs on the street). In the same mock Booking that management looked at, the unpaid travel time was more than 1 hour only 7% of the time, compared to 27% of the time today. It was less than 30 minutes 42% of the time, compared to 22% today. We were also able to better control recovery points for access to washrooms/meal facilities by putting more pieces together. We believe this would greatly improve the quality of life for the majority of Operators.

Students in solidarity with ATU strikers

Just in case these students never get any press, here is an excerpt from a Facebook group called "SFUO Flying Squads in Support of the ATU" created for members of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa who are interested in picketing along with striking bus drivers:
So here's the deal:

-The OC Transpo workers are on strike.
-They need all the support we can get.
-Our union office is 3 blocks away from the pickets at city hall.

So, in the interests of solidarity, it would be nice to have a constant SFUO presence down on the line at city hall. The workers there are incredibly happy to see students, and this is the kind of solidarity and movement building that will get results in the future.

So I'm thinking, starting Monday (or if they picket this weekend, starting Saturday) we work out a schedule. Hour and a half shifts sound about right. So if you could post what time and day you're available to help picket, I'll work out a schedule. If you know people who would be up for this as well, please invite them to the event.

This is not an initiative officially supported by the SFUO, but an individual student.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Common complaint from some students

"Especially at this time of year, with exams and Christmas," said [Algonquin College student Steve] Larocque. "I see why they're doing it, but I think the blame is mostly with the drivers."
That comes from this story in the Sun, the headline of which read "Tensions ride high as picket lines block students". Since there are so many thousands of students writing exams in this city during this strike, it is hardly surprising that they are being sucked into the debate and, as a result, characterized as taking sides.

It's nearly impossible to gauge the collective opinion of 35,000+ University of Ottawa students, 20,000+ Carleton students, and 12,000+ Algonquin students. Much media coverage suggests students' views are generally similar to those of Larocque -- annoyed, frustrated, and wishing the strike wasn't happening right now.

Also of note, this site's executive director was quoted in the story. He is far too modest to post that here, however.

The hidden victims of the transit strike

Ottawa radio station CHUO 89.1 show host Dahlya Smolash recently did an interview with Katherine Gardener, an Ottawa resident who uses a wheelchair to get around town and is in the midst of protesting the OC Transpo strike in front of City Hall. She doesn’t place the blame on either side of the conflict, but says that both sides need to come together to help out the people who are suffering.

Her emphasis is on people with disabilities who are unable to get around the city, even with Para Transpo services. More pressing are those who have attendants or caregivers who are unable to tend to their physical needs, such as personal hygiene, medication, and feeding themselves. Not all of those affected have backup options available to them for these services.

Gardener suggested that, to avoid another strike (and to bring an end to this one), bus drivers “have to be mandated back to work, go to arbitration, and make OC Transpo an essential service.” Her biggest fear, she says, is for the worst-case scenario. “I’m hoping that nobody dies before they go back to the table. There is a chance that somebody with a disability will pass away because of this, there could be a senior that falls in their home or even somebody with a disability who tries to get up and do something because their attendant couldn’t be there.”

No matter whether you believe the Amalgamated Transit Union is in the right on this issue or City Council, I think there is universal agreement that there are more important things than what either side is debating. The interview is only 4:54 long, so please listen to the podcast embedded below.

Thanks to Dahlya Smolesh of Kaleidoscope and CHUO 89.1 for giving me permission to publicize this story.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Free dailies with no bus-based readers?

These are today's editions of the two free dailies in Ottawa, Metro and 24 Hours. They continue to publish throughout the transit strike, obviously, but have they taken a readership hit? The bulk of their print readers sit on buses. Perhaps the papers have made it up by increasing their traffic online.

Evolution of a strike

Ottawa commuters (and bus riders in general) are nearing the end of their first work week dealing with what could be a protracted transit strike. In case any non-Ottawa readers were wondering, this is far and away the biggest news in the city -- no surprise there. Let's take a look at how the strike evolved over the last few days on the covers of the Ottawa Citizen and Ottawa Sun.

On Dec. 9, the Sun was still warming up its coverage and favoured the resignation of federal Liberal leader Stéphane Dion over the strike, which it featured on its flag.

On the same day, the Citizen juxtaposed coverage of the City budget passage with the looming transit strike. This was the beginning of the paper's devotion of its front page to the strike.

Day One of the strike was predictably worthy of banner coverage. As the Citizen points out, residents of the city hadn't faced this kind of strike in over a decade.

All the news after Day One reported the hilarious-if-it-were-funny coincidence that saw Ottawa receive over 30 centimetres of snow just as buses stopped rolling. And the "double whammy" wasn't just local news, as national media picked it up.

The Citizen reports today that this could be a long strike. Both sides are settling in.

Images like this in today's Sun can't help cooler heads. According to the caption, this is an Ottawa woman being told by an OC Transpo official "to wait in her car at a parking lot exit near the City of Ottawa offices on Constellation Crescent". Now, that is very little context for the situation. But the bottom line is that this photo is filled with anger.

Ottawa's residents might be annoyed, frustrated, and generally angry about this strike, but the city's newsrooms are clearly abuzz.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

In the news: Victims of the transit strike

Quite a few articles recently have been exploring some of the people who've been forced to make alternative arrangements as a result of the OC Transpo strike.

First off, after the University of Ottawa and Carleton University announced that they will be running shuttles to move students into, out of, and between campuses, the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) said they're not prepared to rule out picketing these shuttles--most of which are intended to allow students to get to school to write exams. From

The union said it won't rule out picketing shuttles hired by local universities to help their students get to their exams during the city's transit strike.

"Most of the bus companies would never ever do anything that would be scabbing our members," [Randy] Graham [international vice-president for the Amalgamated Transit Union] said Wednesday afternoon. "We'll have to deal with it if it does occur. We have to do the things that we legally can do. And we will do it."
The situation is similar to that of elementary and high schools in the city, who were unable to receive guarantees that any yellow school buses they hired to stand in for OC Transpo service in transporting students wouldn't be picketed. As a result, the schools decided not to risk the health of students, picketers, or drivers and the onus is on students to fidn their own ways to school.

Ottawa Metro had an article about local charities whose fundraising efforts have been hindered because volunteers are unable to get to their posts, including the Salvation Army:

“We have begun to receive calls from volunteers indicating that without transportation, they will be unable to fulfill their shift,” said spokesman Michael Maidment [of the Salvation Army]. “We are working hard to identify ways to lessen the impact of the transit strike on our campaign.”

The organization’s toy distribution to needy families will also be affected.

“Families will be forced to find alternative transportation to the toy distribution centre to pick up toys for their children," said Maidment.

The strike has also had an impact on life at the Ottawa Mission.

“Half of our volunteers didn’t make it in today,” the shelter’s executive director Diane Morrison said yesterday.

And finally, the Ottawa Business Journal wrote about the possibility--and, the longer the work stoppage continues, probability--that local malls and retailers will suffer with people less able to get to shopping areas. Representatives from each of the Rideau Centre, St. Laurent, and Place D'Orléans all suggested that their traffic was down considerably in day one of the strike, although Denis Pelletier, general manager of Bayshore Shopping Centre, suggested that the fact that many of his clients come from outside the core, he might be somewhat insulated from the effects:

The Rideau Centre's Cindy VanBuskirk told OBJ that even on the first day of what some expect to be a protracted work stoppage, traffic at the downtown transit and retail hub was down noticeably.

"It's a little early on, but clearly there are fewer people in the shopping centre (today)," she said, noting that 47 per cent of Rideau Centre customers rely on public transit to get around. And while some of today's lacklustre activity could be blamed on the knee-deep snow besieging the capital, Ms. VanBuskirk said there's no way the strike won't affect the mall negatively on some level.
What kind of arrangements have you had to make getting to work or around the city with the work stoppage in place? Feel free to post (and read) stories in the 'Comments' section.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ottawa universities offer shuttles to transit-hungry students

During the ongoing OC Transpo bus strike, students at the University of Ottawa and Carleton University can access shuttle services to some parts of the city. Beyond a bus from Merivale and Meadowlands to Carleton University, though, the west end is still largely left out.

This release went out to all University of Ottawa students just a few minutes ago (at about 10:45 p.m.):

Ottawa, December 10, 2008 In light of the recent transit strike, the Student Federation (SFUO) and the University of Ottawa will provide a free shuttle service to uOttawa students. The service will offer round trips within the City of Ottawa to the main campus during the exam period.

Starting at 7:00 tomorrow morning, December 11, 2008, ONLY University of Ottawa students will be permitted to use the shuttle service upon presentation of their uOttawa student cards.

1) Round trips from South Keys Mall (close to the Second Cup and O-Train platform) to University of Ottawa will operate between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m., approximately every hour (as possible), 7 days a week from December 11 to December 22 inclusively.

2) Round trips from Place d’Orleans (north side, near the Park and Ride) to the University of Ottawa will operate between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m., approximately every hour (as possible), 7 days a week from December 11 to December 22 inclusively.

3) The existing round trip shuttle service from the University of Ottawa to Carleton University will operate from 7:30 a.m. to 10:20 p.m. from Monday to Saturday. It is recommended to use mid-morning services for afternoon and evening exams. Visit the Parking and Sustainable Transportation's website for the schedule.

Please note that the drop-off and pick-up point on campus is near Montpetit Hall.

Students are asked to arrive extra early for access to the shuttle buses since they will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

Two additional bus routes will be added on Friday depending upon the demand.

Please see the following link for other possible ways to get to the University of Ottawa:

The Carleton University Students Association has released a similar plan to help its students:

The buses will run from 7am – 12pm, 6-11pm Monday to Saturday for the duration of exams in the event of an OC Transpo strike.

Buses will run from the following location:
Merivale and Meadowlands – pick up every 45 minutes
Place d’Orleans – pick up every hour
South Keys Mall (near the O-Train) – pick up every 30 minutes
Bank Street and MacLeod Street bus stop – pick up every 30 minutes

Please note that these times are approximate and there may be delays because of weather conditions and traffic. The shuttle service is available to Carleton students ONLY, and students MUST present their student ID to get on the buses.

We will be accepting donations of OC Transpo equivalent fare from students that take the shuttle service in order to help pay for the service. We also encourage those who have a ride or need a ride to exams during the strike to advertise through our ride board. All rides are posted on the CUSA office and on our website. We accept ride requests and postings via email at or by phone at (613) 520-6688

"It's not about money": Cornellier

André Cornellier, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 279, spoke on CTV on Tuesday. He highlighted the fact that 'block-booking', the ability for senior drivers to schedule their own routes, is the chief issue for the ATU in their strike. Many comments on the blog have highlighted his apparent hostility towards host Carol Ann Meehan:

On Talk Ottawa Wednesday night, Kanata North Councillor Marianne Wilkinson explained the city's position on block-booking. In essence, according to Wilkinson, the system requires significant 'deadheading', with a number of empty buses transporting drivers to their previously selected routes rather than having them run one route from the end-stop of their previous route.

For the city, block-booking means an increase in operating costs; for the union, it means negotiating on a contract item they've had for 106 years. But for citizens, all it means is a work stoppage and a desperate scramble for alternate methods of transportation.

(via LiveJournal)

TransitOttawa talking strike on Talk Ottawa tonight

TransitOttawa will be on Talk Ottawa this evening (Wednesday), on Rogers 22 in Ottawa at 9 p.m. In addition to myself (Peter Raaymakers), Kanata North Councillor Marianne Wilkinson and president of the Ottawa & District Labour Council Sean McKenny will also be on the panel for the hour-long program.

Here's the official press release:

As Ottawa enters day one of a public transit strike, the issue rises again, should public transit be declared an essential service?

Talk Ottawa tonight at 9PM as Ward 4 Kanata North Councillor Marianne Wilkinson, Ottawa & District Labour Council President Sean McKenny and Peter Raaymakers of Public Transit in Ottawa join James Hendricks in studio to discuss the implications and take your calls.

Talk Ottawa – tonight at 9PM - exclusively on Rogers TV Cable 22.

Rogers TV is a one of a kind TV channel that is tailor-made for local audiences. Every year, our stations proudly produce over 15,000 hours of original, informative local programming, reinforcing Rogers Cable's commitment to the communities we serve. Rogers TV is a service available exclusively to cable customers as part of the basic service of Rogers Cable Communications Inc., Canada's largest cable company, delivering high quality entertainment, information and communication services to 2.2 million customers in Ontario, New Brunswick and Newfoundland.

For more information please contact:
Lisa Lafontaine, Publicity Officer
Rogers TV Cable 22

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Public opinion strongly against OC Transpo

Although far from a scientific study, public opinion on Internet forums, newspaper comments, and this blog seems to be strongly against the OC Transpo in the labour strife between the City of Ottawa and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) that represents drivers, mechanics, and dispatchers.

The most recently-rejected offer (which you can read on the City's website, click here) from the city included wage increases of three, two, and two percent over the next three years, according to the Ottawa Citizen. That offer wasn't submitted to a vote of union members because, according to union President André Cornellier, the offer--a quarter of a percent higher than the previous one--wasn't significantly different from a previous vote that the union voted 98 percent against accepting. In the Citizen story, Cornellier suggested that bigger issues of "the scheduling of drivers, improved sick leave and contracting out of maintenance" remain unresolved.

Although the Citizen's new format doesn't enable comments, a similar article on had a number of comments reflecting a swing of public opinion in favour of the City's position on the issue. Some of the comments make sweeping generalizations about the drivers, some are condemnations of the union, but here are a few of the most well-stated:
"The greed of this union amazes me. Job losses are soaring all over the country yet our transit workers feel that they deserve more, and have decided to cut-off essential services until they get it. And the sad part is, they'll probably get their way. Has anyone in the union stopped to think about people who can't afford alternative methods of transportation and will lose their income because of this? I'm sure the extra sick days are worth it though... " --Anon1234

"I hope the transit workers come to their senses and rebel against this Union. Their hostage taking tactics are doing nothing to gain them public respect, nor for those they represent. Quite the opposite in fact!" --Dee of Canada

"Keep this up and the PEOPLE WHO PAY YOUR CHEQUES will start their own war cry...PRIVATIZE OC TRANSPO!!!! England has privatized their train system and the sky didnt fall. I dont agree with privatizing everything and often support the labour movement, but this is insane! The union is an out of touch aristocracy who have a disgusting sense of entitlement. I bet we could put off the city tax hike if we privatized OC Transpo and paid these yahoos 15-20$/hr instead of 25-30. Its been done. We can do it too. All that needs to happen is for the public to demand it. Keep it up guys and the public will." -- MTCicero

"It's time OCTranspo had some competition. Who's going to start up a private bus company and see OCTranspo sweat when they realise what competitive business means." --Stanica

"OCTranspo should be an essential service! The city should protect itself from such a mess happenning every three years and just make it impossible for the bus drivers to go on strike." --That Guy
On the LiveJournal OCTranspo community (which includes a lot of drivers commenting), there's more anti-OC Transpo sentiment, but there also some sympathy for the drivers on there:
"Personally, I think they should get whatever they want. They're a pretty essential service in the city as far as I'm concerned, and what's the difference between 8 and 10 sick days? Who cares?! Get them what they want so the buses can get back on the streets so we're not all suffering and feeling punished!" --elektrafying

"Sorry Ottawa, but instead of blaming / hating us [OC drivers] for what alot of people feel were about to do to the city, look at your city and ask them why they've abandoned you at this time of year... Our contract expired on April 1st of this year, it take 2 parties to negotiate a contract." --billybigrig

"The wages aren't the issue, this is about scheduling, contracting out, and sick days. If they offered the same wage package, but left the booking process alone, amended the contracting out a bit, and made the sick days more in line with what office staff at OC get (they get 12 days/yr, we get 6, and they are allowed to carry unused days forward or get them paid out, we are not), then the contract would be a done deal!" --niceocdriver

And finally, (and most importantly?) the comments right here on Public Transit in Ottawa are strongly against the demands of the ATU:
"Comments left on CBC and CTV web sites are overwhelmingly against OC Transpo drivers.And this in the middle of exam week. A great real-life lesson for students on the power of unions over the little guy." --Klaus

"Greediness will not get you far. It's about time to teach the lesson that having a tantrum does not always mean you get what you want! In times where money is tight, it's a shame they feel a higher raise is deserved. Many of us have had to forego larger wage increases this year just to ensure we still have jobs. I cannot begin to express how disgusted I am with how they are acting, wanting more money than is available to go around. Quit complaining and be thankful for your job!" --Anonymous

"1. Public transit should become an essential service (like health care).
"2. It is utterly disgusting that they show so much greed while the rest of the world is tightening the belt during the present economic hardship. It is not the time to insist on getting more. Not while hundreds of thousands of people are losing their jobs. Short term victories acquired through poor attitude can only result in longterm dire consequences. I wouldn't be surprised if their greed would push the system into either making them an essential service (therefore forbidding them from going on strike) or privatizing the transit system (in which case, if they'll wish they hadn't pushed so far that it came to shove)." --Anonymous

Monday, December 8, 2008

Talks break off, transit strike seems likely

The Ottawa Sun is the first mainstream news source to report that talks between the city and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) that represents the OC Transpo drivers and support workers have broken off. According to the story, the City's most recent offer "wasn't good enough":
“We’re far part on a certain issues. They are very important to us and I guess they are very important to them,” said Andre Cornellier, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union local.


The main points are scheduling, contracting out work and, when it comes right down to it, respect and dignity said Cornellier.
On his blog, Mayor Larry O'Brien discussed the possibility of a transit strike, and also the difficulty presented with trying to reward City-paid staff while also being fiscally responsible.
"We have hard working and professional drivers. In conversations with them I believe all concerned think the city’s financial offer is fair, so the question is why would there be a strike? What is the disagreement? The City takes its responsibility in public transit very seriously. We have to.

"There are a number of non-financial issues at the heart of the current negotiations. Without going into details one of the issues is about our management having the tools to improve operations of the transit system such as control of shift management and employee scheduling.

"Without these important tools the City loses much of the flexibility we need to manage the system in an economically efficient manner.


"It is always hard to find the balance between rewarding the drivers for outstanding service and looking after the interests of taxpayers."
As I understand it, one of those "important tools" that O'Brien alludes to is the freedom to contract out work when deemed appropriate.

As it stands now, though, it appears there will be strike beginning at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday morning.