Thursday, September 2, 2010

How bad are relations between OC Transpo and its union?

Late last week, a possible deal between OC Transpo and its drivers was rejected by the drivers' union. It was disappointing to see the issue continue to go on unresolved, but the motion seemed to point to one positive fact: Communication between the two sides is ongoing. Given the intense negativity leading up to, during, and since the 2008-09 transit strike, any communication must be a good thing.


Hopefully. But as David Reevely points out in his latest column at Greater Ottawa, the ATU 279 membership, it appears, is "militant". With that in mind, who knows whether or not the results of these votes are true disagreement with the agreement put forward, or just rejected out of spite? From Reevely's blog:
"The dangerous problem I see isn't that the OC Transpo union members are militant. They were pretty badly put upon at the time of the last strike, by managers who wanted to take away an extremely important element in their contract with apparently no understanding of why it was there in the first place (letting drivers, in particular, have considerable control over their own work schedules was a key move in an effort to detoxify the OC Transpo workplace after the deadly Pierre Lebrun shootings a decade ago). I can see where the militancy comes from, and anyway, tough but skilled managers can deal with a militant union membership in a non-destructive fashion. They did it after the shootings, for example."
Leading up to the vote, on the OC Transpo livejournal, user roadwarrier came out in support of the agreement. Roadwarrier is one of the more vocal operators on the LiveJournal, and he tried to convince his brothers and sisters why it wasn't such a bad deal--or at least to explain why he was voting yes.
"Well gang, I was one of the big naysayers, no at any cost, with a serious vendetta against management. Quite frankly, I walked into the meeting ready to vote this thursday, ready to vote no at any cost, no matter how good the offer was.

"And I've done a 180. The executive has worked very hard to get some strong language and some real goodies for us. Stuff that's going to cost the company a lot of money and that really benefits us. Stuff that wasn't on the table when we walked and stuff that was on the table. At the end of the day, my gut tells me that this is a very good offer and the only reason the offer is so good is that the city knows they can't keep going with the way it is."
Since roadwarrier's post, a series of follow-up threads were posted leading up to the vote: Titles such as "NOT SUCH A GREAT DEAL", "Vague language in Contract - vote NO unless rectified", "VOTE NO! VOTE NO! VOTE NO! VOTE NO! VOTE NO! VOTE NO! VOTE NO! VOTE NO! VOTE NO!", "Vote No", and "Why I've decided to vote no" were all put up. They acknowledged "minor improvements" for drivers, but cautioned union members to "think worst case scenario" [sic]; it seems the relationship is so toxic, the union is assuming managers are trying to pull one over on them, and will be taking a mile for every inch given.

And now, interim union leader Mike Aldrich has taken issue with explanations made by OC Transpo general manager Alain Mercier about service issues. Rather than Mercier's excuses of vacationing drivers, Aldrich said that service problems that have come up through the summer had more to do with these 'scheduling issues' that continue to elude proper, concise explanation.

So we've got a union head who seems open to compromise (Aldrich) standing in for a much more confrontational union leader (Andre Cornellier, who's taken personal leave) in leading a group of militant employees (the ATU 279) to negotiate with a manager who's done little to befriend the union, and a fair bit to irk them (Mercier)--and who, it should be noted, is supported by a mayor who seems enemy number one to the union (Larry O'Brien)--to come to an agreement on issues few, if any, truly understand and may or may not actually materialize into 'operational efficiencies' (scheduling).

Brace yourselves. The end seems far off.

1 comment:

Dean said...

We have a union membership that seem's unwilling to make any compromise. How can we have actual good faith bargaining in this situation. Giving the members exactly what they want is giving into bullying. And if it works this time why wouldn't they take exactly stance when the contract is up next year?

Mercier is on the way out and were probably gonna get a new mayor. They have everything to gain by taking an aggressive stance with who ever replaces Mercier and the mayor.

Is dosen't seem to matter who is in charge the culture in the union seem's to stay the same. I would suggest most of the public views the union as much a part of the problem as the management. The public can ultimately change the management. But as we saw in the last strike when we see no real change in the union the public is far more supportive of management taking a hard line. The union membership needs to seriously look at changing it's culture. It can't be one sided.