Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Winners and losers? Let's just move on

This morning's Citizen takes a look at the transit strike's winners and losers. The story concludes that ATU 279 is sort of a winner by default, and the reporter consults several local experts in relevant fields, including:
  • Former transit commission chair Al Loney
  • Carleton University political scientist Katherine Graham
  • University of Ottawa Labour law expert John Manwaring
  • University of Ottawa political scientist Caroline Andrew
I don't want to devalue the opinions expressed by these people. It's an interesting story, and it's inevitable that this city and its citizens will try to identify winners and losers after such an intense and drawn-out battle.

But my question is: Who cares?

Some of the experts expressed a similar opinion to the Citizen, according to the story's lede (emphasis ours):
After the heavyweight clash that was the 51-day Ottawa transit strike, many experts are declaring it a bruising draw, with the city and union battered and bloodied.

They say the question is not so much who won or lost, because in a strike as damaging and costly as this one, there are no winners -- especially since both sides capitulated in the face of back-to-work legislation, without getting what they really wanted.
Agreed. There are no winners. But the scads of people in this city who suffered were definitely the strike's biggest losers. And as far as commuters are concerned, whichever side won or lost has no tangible effect on their daily usage of the system. Besides, as Andrew points out towards the end of the article, we probably won't know who "won" until arbitration concludes, anyway -- and that could take months.

In the mean time, let's just take the bus. It serves the same valuable function that it did before the strike when, as most readers likely know, ridership was at an all-time high.


Anonymous said...

But my question is: Who cares?

Taxpayers. Especially those living in the core, as mentioned in the story beside that one, that donate $1000 a head to people living in bigger, detached, houses than them in the suburbs.

Indifferent said...

I think what Nick means is that the average taxpayer doesn't care at all who won or lost in the grand scheme of things. We are the biggest losers since we lost the convenience of riding the bus for 51 cold, snowy days, we lost money, time, and energy trying to find alternate ways to work, and, ultimately, we lost faith in the City and OC Transpo (and possibly humanity, in some cases).
So do I care who (of Larry O'Brien and Andre Cornellier) experts think lost more? No. They may have lost face but escaped with their wallets and egos intact.

Anonymous said...

I think what Nick means is that the average taxpayer doesn't care at all who won or lost in the grand scheme of things.

I think you're right, this is what Nick means.

I think Nick is wrong though.

And I think so as an average taxpayer, even one who lost time, money, and energy making up my commute. I'd say I lost faith in the city, but I mean c'mon...

If the Citizen want to fill half a page with a silly story, that's fine by me. I don't really care what the 'experts' thin, especially given the fact that's it pretty lightweight piece of gross speculation.

I do care who won or lost though. Big time.

david said...

OK, let's phrase the question a little differently: what lessons will everyone draw for the next time the contract comes up?

Love them or hate them, the union was able to stand together for nearly two months without pay (strike pay barely covers gas and coffee), while the city flailed around and eventually abandoned its scheduling demand -- supposedly the reason we suffered through the strike in the first place -- to binding arbitration.

Next time the contract comes up, the city's going to be much less confident that they can starve out the union, while the union's going to be more aggressive with their demands. That's going to be expensive.

So I guess we citizens lose twice: once from the strike, and a second time from higher transit costs in the future. At least we can avoid losing a third time by not re-electing the mayor and council who put us all through this.

David Reevely said...

It IS awfully early to figure out who's emerged stronger and who's been weakened by the strike, except in that transit-dependent Ottawans are obvious victims. But it does matter to the extent that the results of this strike will affect the chances of future disruptions.

I think it's significant that the union got battered but remained largely united.

Anonymous said...

"In the meantime let's just take the bus."

What a classic, don't rock the boat, just put up with it, Ottawa attitude. How about "In the meantime let's demand a new, customer-centred approach to transit in this city, a new approach to labour-management relations at OC Transpo and, most importantly, a new governance structure that puts an end to the micro-managing of transit by city council."

Nick said...

I think regular Ottawans can "just take the bus" at the same time as they demand "a new, customer-centred approach to transit in this city, a new approach to labour-management relations at OC Transpo and, most importantly, a new governance structure that puts an end to the micro-managing of transit by city council."

I think we should "just take the bus" because public transit provides a valuable service to the people who need it.

WJM said...

What a classic, don't rock the boat, just put up with it, Ottawa attitude.

Welcome to the Land of the Civil Servant.

Anonymous said...

As david has said, we can avoid a third loss by voting against Larry. But we also need to vote against Andre!

But there is a bigger loss yet.

The drivers' lengthy strike caused misery and hardship for many, incovenience for all, and financial penalty for themselves. Afterwards, some of them have stated that it was the right thing to do and deplored the layoffs that are the logical and foreseeable consequence of their actions. This is not rational behaviour.

The modern, green transit system that works for all citizens - something many visitors to this blog desire, probably - will have, among its many requirements, these:

1) A scheduling mechanism that is part of, and responds to, the main line operation of the business;

2) Multi-million dollar investments in infrastructure and equipment.

The drivers have clearly demonstrated that will go to any lengths to prevent the first and cannot be entrusted with the safekeeping of the second.

Modern, green transit system? We cannot get there from here!

KRJM said...

Well, if this recent release on http://www.octranspo.com/Main_MenuE.asp doesn't get people on the bus, I don't know what will:

February, March and April Fare Discounts
All O-Train and bus service will be free until February 15.

O-Train and bus service will be free on weekends until the end of February.

Regular fare December bus passes - including monthly, fall semester, and 2008 annual passes - will be valid at until the end of March.

Express December bus passes will be valid until the end of April.

I bought an express in December, so I'll be taking advantage of this, for sure. Bit of a win for me and other express pass holders, I think.

Neil J Thomson said...

There is a much more important issue at stake here. I have friends that depend financially on transit either to get to their job/school/university or to have clients come to them.

The city and union have failed them with huge personal income impact.

This is unacceptable.

Either the contract between the public and OC-Transpo guarantees service or it's time for class action lawsuits or privatization of Ottawa transit.

For many, an incremental cost of privatized transit (should an increase vs. decrease of cost be a reality) far outweighs the cost of no income for (this strike) which may be as much as 120 days...

Time for the union to face this reality or be abolished.

david said...

Neil J Thomson:

Privatization might be a good idea for other reasons, but it won't guarantee no strikes -- private companies can have unions too.

If you want to make sure there are no strikes, then you probably want transit to be declared an essential service, like the police. That means that an independent arbitrator will decide on pay, benefits, scheduling disputes, etc. for the transit employees, and the city is forced to pay whatever the arbitrator decides, with no room for negotiation. So we pay more tax for the guarantee of no strikes (think of it as insurance).

There's no way to guarantee that the city has all the power and the drivers have none.

Dwight Williams said...

We're going to have the higher costs eventually, no matter what we do. Privatization, essential service status declaration, you name it and inflation will have its way.

Let's just get back to using the service and getting the best service we can out of it.