Sunday, January 18, 2009

Ottawa Transit Strike Day 40: Close, but no cigar

Today's leading headlines on the Ottawa Citizen and Ottawa Sun, respectively, are: Transit union rejects latest city offer and Buses not set to roll just yet.

The papers are listless in their story's ledes. In the Citizen:
It's still not over.

Despite hopes that a deal might have been close, leaders of Ottawa's 2,300 striking OC Transpo workers rejected a city council counter-offer yesterday that could have seen the 40-day transit strike settled in days by an arbitrator.

And in the Sun:

After a recent flurry of activity and guarded optimism that the longest transit strike in the city's history might be coming to an end, both sides dug in their heels yesterday and blamed each other for a stalemate that appears to be far from over.

The only news today is that ATU 279 leadership was "disappointed" with the City's response to what the union saw as a fair offer.

Union president Andre Cornellier released a statement on ATU 279's strike website commenting on the important distinction between scheduling and the rest of the outstanding issues at the table.
“We can’t lose sight of the fact that when this system was created it took a joint labour-management committee more than a year to assemble it, now the City thinks a fact-finder would resolve this in two weeks. Yesterday the Union offered to work with the City for as long as it takes to resolve legitimate issues.”
The City's most recent counter-offer, union officials say, simply isn't very different from the deal they rejected soundly a couple of weeks ago.


Dean said...

The union's offer while not unreasonable does not end the strike. Any perceived slight over the scheduling issue during negotiations and they are back on the picket line. This seems more like an attempt to win over the public. Just so they can claim the mayor is responsible for making you walk to work in the middle of winter. So the mayor is responsible for ruining Winterlude.
The city counter offered for the whole thing to go to binding arbitration not just part of it and the scheduling to a fact finder as the union is claiming.

At least the two sides have put forward reasonable offers, very politically motivated but reasonable. Let's see if they can make it work.

Anonymous said...

You've misread this, Dean.

The city has made it's best offer, in terms of money, and is holding firm. The union wants the issue to be separate so they can get further additional compensation. This is quite transparently just a media play to try and satisfy union membership and perhaps get better play in the public/media.

The city, quite cleverly, has not said 'no' (as the union was hoping), but has said a conditional yes that maintains the key conditions that the city has been trying to get the union to agree to for almost a year now. And they've said they are not prepared to negotiate in newspapers, which is a way of trying to preempt what will be primarily a media game from the union from here on in.

The union is trying to find new leverage, given that their despicable tactics have not succeeded and they are rapidly losing economic and weather related leverage.

Anonymous said...

It seems like everybody here thinks they are experts. To you I suggest you read David Reevely and Mohammed Adams articles in the Citizen and also watch the CBC video about the STO. In these articles you will see how what the city is proposing for our drivers is out of line with what every other city including Vancouver's semi-privatized system offers its drivers. Ottawa's drivers are comparitively underpaid and are asked to work longer days for less gaurantees.
All that being said - our drivers accept the current system parameters but should not be forced into an out of the norm system without due process of consultation. Remember, no program that the city managers come up with can be taken at face value without a trial period. Modifications and glitches will no doubt need to be fixed. That is why the union is asking for a proper period of mediation for the scheduling. There are many ways to "Skin a cat" and with proper time and effort a system that makes both sides happy (even the cat) can be found.

For those who think that the city offer of conditional arbitration was a good offer consider this. Arbitration is supposed to be an unbiased process where an independant party reviews all the details of a contract and determines what is fair for both sides. It not supposed to be hindered by conditions. What the city has offered is binding arbitration on all aspects of the contract so long as the total is within the "financial commitment" of the last offer. That is not arbitration.
The city has lost big time in the last two arbitrations with unions. To me when I look at this it says that the city's offers to these unions were not fair to begin with. (and when I say fair - I don't mean fair in comparison to those at Nortel and Gm who are losing there high paying careers. I am saying fair in comparison to what other transit systems offer - apples to apples)

We are all suffering in this dispute. It is about time that all of us in this community take an un-biased, non-political look at the issues that we are all fighting about.

Anonymous said...

You're right. The maximum salary for bus drivers in almost every other city is ~$25/hr, with most making closer to $21/hr. The scheduling meets federal law requirements and is not dictated by the union. The minimum pay for a few hours work is 7hrs.

In Ottawa, the AVERAGE rate is $24/hr. The union wants to control the scheduling, and continue to use that benefit they've enjoyed break legal limits on sleep and work limits that jeopardize driver and public safety in hopes of making a few extra bucks. They also want minimum shifts to make a minimum of 8hrs pay a day. So a guy who conspires with his colleague to be busy 2 hrs into his shift can ensure his buddy gets time and a half or better, even when it's unsafe, and his 2hr shift is paid a minimum of 8hrs.

With these tactics, two guys get to increase their rates dramatically. The time and a half buddy, provided he hasn't broken any federal laws on this particular shift, rockets his already country-leading average salary of $24/hr to an impressive $36/hr. The guy who worked 2hrs that does even better, and rockets his salary to $96 for every hour he worked that day.

This is one reason why people who on average should be making an honest $50,000/yr are making the better part of twice that (and some doing considerably better), with rookies (44K in Mtl, Vancouver, and elsewhere) apparently making 60K/yr at a minimum.

Anonymous said...

You are obiously one of the many folks who are rightly uninformed of the real truths about the system at OC.
Firsty, Junior drivers get a progressive pay scale for their first two years. The pay starts at $20.58 cents per hour and progresses in 3, 8 month increments until after 2 years it reaches $24.22 per hour. At this point all experience (seniority) based increases stop. Vancouver $19 - $28 per hour - Edmonton and Calgary $21 - $27 per hour - Montreal $21 -$25 per hour Toronto $21 to $28 per hour. All other systems use a 12 - 12.5 hour spread for split shifts.

As for one guy helping his buddy - that can't happen in OC's system. When one driver is sick, late on a run, or gives away his work to someone else it is given away at regular pay into a general pool available to everyone by seniority. If my "buddy" wants to take a day off and "exchange" his work with me, I get it for regular pay with no premiums. Even if that work puts me over 40 hours per week it is still paid at regular rate - not OT. The same as if I work at Canadian Tire and I decide I want Friday Night off and I give my shift to another employee. This program, agreed to in 1999 actually benefits OC as they have to pay less premiums.

Next, under no circumstance can someone at OC work 2 hours and get paid eight. The driver who works 2 hours into a shift and then decides to give away his work foregoes his pay and premiums and gives his shift to someone else at regular rate. No cost to the city - possible savings if the original driver was being paid a premium.

The closest a driver can get to that would be to work a shift that covers for those who call in sick or come in late. On this shift he would not be able to plan his day as his schedule would depend on who calls in sick and what runs they were doing. He would have to make himself available for up to 12 hours (spread) for a guarantee of 6 hours (present system) only if he works a minimum of 4.5 hours. This would happen about 5 times a week out the 900 shifts covered everyday. Even Alain Mercier stated that only a small percentage (30 or so drivers by seniority) would ever qualify for this scenario. He also stated that only one driver worked 190 days straight (no family life) and that most of his work was paid at regular rate, not OT.

Next, most drivers make the basic $55,000 per year. A few as Alain Mercier stated make more with only a couple making over $100,000. Those of you who work hourly paid jobs are aware that if you wish to forego a family and social life, you too can spend you life at your job covering for those who call in sick or wish to spend time with family or cover for busy times and get paid more. It is not the fault of the driver for the system making available work.

How many of you commenting here work two jobs to pay the bills. OC drivers do the same. If they are lucky however, they can get extra work at the same place of employement depending on how many people call in sick or how bad the weather is.

Anonymous said...

A great article here probably does a better job than the first guy, and certainly than the second.

How many of you commenting here work two jobs to pay the bills. OC drivers do the same.

I don't understand how this is an argument.

Anonymous said...

If the scheduling does not raise the city's cost substantially, why is the union dead set on agreeing to a base compensation before coming back to the table to negotiate scheduling?

The city said it will consider any scheduling system, so long as it keeps the bottom line where it is.

Figures here and elsewhere estimate the difference at $30M AT LEAST. That's a real difference of about $12K/year per employee that is being essential stolen by people manipulating the system

Assume half of the union are honest and not stealing. That means the other half is stealing nearly $30K/yr each.

Anonymous said...

"How many of you commenting here work two jobs to pay the bills. OC drivers do the same.

I don't understand how this is an argument."

Sorry, didn't mean this as an argument. Just that those who say it is unfair or not right that drivers get to work extra hours covering others shifts for regular should consider the fact that a great number of us work extra hours.

I have worked two and even three jobs to make money. I would have loved to be able to do it at the same job and not have to co-ordinate schedules. I chose not to have a family life so that I could make more money. These drivers are doing the same.

The system was set up by OC management and is presently run by OC management so we should not be blaming the drivers or unions for utilizing it. Should it be changed - maybe. But not overnight. As we can see in the media and defenitely in the comments on the blogs, this system is complicated and requires consultation, mock runs, trial periods ect. before it is forced onto employees. We in the public have been arguing about it for 40 days now, the city and the union have been arguing about it for months, how is a mediator (fact finder) going to solve it in 14 days?

Anonymous said...

The system was set up by OC management and is presently run by OC management so we should not be blaming the drivers or unions for utilizing it.

Or using it even.

So we should not be blaming OC managers for trying to fix a system that's based on assuming honesty from the drivers that has been massively abused at the expense of tax dollars, public safety, and honest members of the union.

The fact finder is going to identify what rules are being abused to account for the tens of thousands of extra dollars per employee.

Anonymous said...

The scheduling system is not where the $30 million dollar figure comes from. According to Kirk Kirkpatrick and Alain Mercier, the scheduling will save around 3-4 million per year. (out of a city budget of 2 billion dollars annually - maybe 10 dollars annual tax increase per household)

The $30 million figure is what it will cost the city if all the cities unions get the same financial percentage increase as the drivers and mechanics for OC. Remember, this is the first of many contracts up for renewal this year.

Anonymous said...

Like everything in life, a few bad apples ruin it for the many.

There is no dissagreement from me and I believe most of the ATU members that the system is not perfect for either the city or the employee. What the union asked for when it went back to the city with its offer was to arbitrate everthing that could easily be understood and dealt with by an arbitrator. Take the scheduling and put it aside to be mediated over a reasonable period of time more than two weeks) to allow both sides to come up with a system that addresses everbodies concerns. Remember, it took over a year for the present system to be designed by so-called experts from the union and City managers. And since its inception in 1999 it has been tinkered with by both sides to try to improve it for both sides.

Anonymous said...

city budget of 2 billion dollars annually

Another classically weak argument. If the country was paying for it, you could argue the union deserves 10 times their current salary.