Monday, January 12, 2009

Ottawa Transit Strike: Day 34

Late last week, as reported by CBC, the city of Ottawa announced that they will be temporarily laying off or re-assigning 40-60 members of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1760, representing OC Transpo administrative staff. The ATU 1760 is the much smaller sister-union of the striking ATU 279, the latter representing OC Transpo mechanics and operators. According to Mayor Larry O'Brien, the decision came in light of the ATU 279's voting against accepting an offer from the city and therefore prolonging the transit strike.

It was also announced that at some point today, according to reports in the Ottawa Citizen, both the city and the ATU 279 will be meeting with a federal mediator to try and reach some resolution to the ongoing strike. Apparently the city is now willing to negotiate scheduling concessions, as long as the bottom line is the same cost-savings and safety and reliability improvements, according to city manager Kent Kirkpatrick. In the Citizen story, Kirkpatrick was quoted as saying, "As long as it’s the same total financial cost, it doesn’t have to come out of scheduling."

According to a report on CBC, researchers have determined that the strike is costing the city millions of dollars, including about $4M to the local economy every week in "increased commuting costs alone." The article goes on to explain that the results of increased expenditures on commuting mean that people have less to pay for other local or value-added goods and services, reducing overall output and therefore negatively affecting overall productivity.

Finally, in the first publicized violent expression of frustration with the transit strike, an Ottawa driver has been charged with dangerous operation of a motor vehicle when he hit and dragged a woman walking the ATU 279 picket line on Jan. 7, according to the Ottawa Sun. The woman was thankfully not injured.

7 comments:

Coridon Henshaw said...

An open letter to Mayor O'Brien regarding the ATU279 strike:

I write to raise two points with regard to the ongoing strike by ATU local 279. The first point is that, in my view, City Council should make no concessions to ATU279 as a matter of fairness to everyone who has been adversely impacted by ATU279's choice to strike. The second point is that City Council's response to ATU279's refusal to work has been inadequate and that harsher measures are required as a matter of extreme urgency. City Council should immediately seek either back to work legislation or work privatize OC Transpo so as to remove ATU279's crushing stranglehold on Ottawa's economy.

According an article by Mohammed Adam, posted on 12 January to the online edition of the Ottawa Citizen, the ATU279 strike has cost Ottawa six percent of its economy--$280 million dollars--to date[1]. This is wholly unacceptable in and of itself but becomes completely repugnant when one realizes that the effects of the ATU279 refusal to work fall disproportionately on the less privileged members of our city, specifically those who cannot own cars and cannot drive for reasons of ill-health or poverty. ATU279 is inflicting the most suffering on the poor, on students, on teenagers, on the elderly, and on those who are medically unfit to drive but are not sufficiently disabled to qualify for Paratranspo. For this segment of Ottawans, ATU279's refusal to work results not merely in needing to put up with increased traffic congestion but rather a complete loss of all mobility and independence.

Given the magnitude of the damage ATU279 has inflicted, it would be fundamentally immoral for City Council to grant the union any reward for the suffering its choice to strike has inflicted on Ottawans. For choosing to trap the transit-dependent within their own homes and for shrinking the local economy by six percent, ATU279 deserves to be punished as severely as possible rather than rewarded with any greater concessions.

With regard to City Council's response to ATU279's refusal to work, it is quite clear that the band-aid ameliorative measures offered by Council are—quite frankly—wholly inadequate. Council's response to the transit crisis has shown no hint of urgency, has done very little to bring the ATU279 dispute towards a conclusion, and has done very little to aid the transit dependent. Council must do more, now, given the end of the Christmas holidays, the resumption of academic terms at both Ottawa universities, and the weather realities of Ottawa winters. Harsher action is needed to restore transit service as soon as possible without caving in to ATU279's demands.

To this end, I believe Council should, within a matter of days, not weeks, seek back-to-work legislation from the federal government, explore its legal options to transfer OC Transpo to provincial jurisdiction--by permanently terminating service into Quebec--to facilitate the passage of a back-to-work order by Queens Park, hire replacement workers on a one for one basis, and/or contract out the provision of transit services such that ATU279 members are no longer required on the city payroll. Even though all of these options would take considerable time to implement, there is extremely limited likelihood that waiting for ATU279 to settle would restore service any sooner.

Council must act to protect the interests of Ottawans by initiating measures to force ATU279 back to work, or render them irrelevant, as soon as possible. In the longer term, permanent relief must be sought to deem transit an essential service so as to protect Ottawans from similar acts of economic terrorism in the future.

Specifically with regard to the hiring of replacement workers, the collapse of the trucking industry in some portions of Canada and the United States means that should not be difficult to hire sufficient drivers with heavy vehicle experience in less time than it would take for the strike to reach a natural conclusion.

Specifically with regard to privatization, a solution to the ATU279 crisis would be the permanent layoff of all OC Transpo employees and the sale of OC Transpo physical assets (buses, garages, etc) to a private operator contracted to provide transit service to Ottawa using non-union employees. Appropriate legal arrangements during the handover of assets from public to private sector control would prevent the transfer of the ATU279 encumbrance to the private operator.

A further benefit of privatization is that it would allow the the 64% of ATU279 members who voted to continue a strike which has cost Ottawans over a quarter of a billion dollars to be excluded from profiting from the public purse after damaging the public interest. There is no moral justification for these 64% to be able to return to their jobs after so many Ottawans have lost their jobs as a result of ATU279's choices.

In sum, the behavior of ATU279 towards Ottawans has been sufficiently hostile and abusive such that the union should not be rewarded with any concessions. The lack of transit service, however, is causing extreme economic damage to Ottawa and requires a far more substantive and urgent response than Council has yet provided. Given the duration of the ATU279 strike, the resulting economic devastation, and the absence of any settlement within the forseeable future, the onus falls on Council to take decisive action to restore transit service without the consent of ATU279. Appropriate steps—towards a back-to-work order, replacement workers or permanent privatization—must be undertaken immediately.


Sincerely,
Coridon Henshaw


[1] http://www.ottawacitizen.com/Business/Transit+strike+cost+280M/1166316/story.html

Shawn said...

1.)Fire them all, drivers, mechanics,..., and get rid of that UNION.
2.)Bring IN the Army guys/gals (and give them a well-desrved bonus in pay for this), to begin the transition.
3.) AND then, start hiring/with training if required NON-UNION -ESSENTIAL service Candains. Young and old welcome..

4.) Give then $40K per year plus ALL benefits and Bonuses.
Do you have any idea how many Canadians need work and would glady apply ?!!!!!!

I'm one of them.
80K <-> 100K+ per year ? just to drive an OVERSIZED VAN !!!!?? -like comon ?!!!

5.)And finally, last but not least fire Larry O'Brien and i hope he gets prosecuted to boot -and ship him back to FLORIDA.

COMON you Canadians.
wake up!

Bytowner said...

No thanks. We don't need a Reagan Solution here. We can't afford the time it would take to train them up anyway, and within a year the replacements would be organizing their own ATU local in protest of how the worst of us passengers treat them on board the buses.

Anonymous said...

Yes we do need a Reagan Solution to this mafia union!!! Wake up!!!

He fired the air traffic controllers, all of them, DID THE SKY FALL???

The bus drivers are holding the city hostage only because the system allows them to!!!

The system needs an overhaul.

The City didn't do its job.

Anonymous said...

The air traffic controller strike in the States was an illegal strike, which is why Reagan was able to fire them all. The members of ATU 279, however, are legally allowed to strike, so it's an entirely different kettle of fish.

Any replacement workers would need on-the-job training on the buses, and without regular bus drivers to do that, I really can't see how it would be done.

So, let me get this straight... The City is saving $3M for every week the ATU workers are on strike, and the local economy is losing $4M?

I can understand that the City doesn't want to give in. If they did, people would just be angry that they had even let the strike happen at all. But this is just ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Well close the shop ... that's what Walmart and McDonald have been doing.

I don't like Walmart but ATU went too far, way too far. This bunch deserve an employer like Walmart or McDonald, not the contract that is offered to them.

Ron Burns said...

I just don't give a rat's ass any longer.
I'm on WSIB living in Ottawa. The reason for being on WSIB is that my knees are so shot from doing 'non-union' electrical work that I can no longer climb ladders or walk any distance at all. Since the strike I haven't been able to attend very many doctors appointments. I don't drive so I need to take a cab. The problem is that my WSIB has been cut to about 500 a month as I havent been able to provide any documentation from the doctors I can't go see as I don't have the funding to pay for cabs. I'm on the verge of being evicted as I can't pay my rent because I cant provide WSIB the
doctors reports that I can't get because I don't drive and the transit folks are on strike.....

Anyways..City of Ottawa, blow me. OC transpo, BLOW ME! I've had all I can take of this shit hole place Canada calls a capital. I should have stayed in Toronto where at least the city is deserving of the name 'Capital'of Ontario. Yes the world 'does' revolve around Toronto for all of you hicks that are soon to make a comment about the conceit of Torontonians. AT least we have a reason unlike OTTAWA!!!