By Jeri Rodrigs
Ottawa’s transit workers led by the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 279 went on strike demanding a renewed labor contract on a cold December winter day causing maximum disruption to the very people who are paying their salaries. People were, in some cases, forced to walk 4 Kms braving -20 Degree centigrade and 35 Cms of snow on the ground to get to work. The timing of the strike couldn’t have been worse when the country and the whole world is going through a economic downturn, political impasse in the hill, World junior hockey tournament is being held in the capital region and when local retailers are hoping to make their livelihood from the Christmas shopping spree in a bad year of low consumer spending. Needless to say the elderly and sick people who solely depended on OC transpo for their medical appointments and getting their medication were also severely affected by this irresponsible action of the few on the top of the transit labor union.
The city has made a genuine offer which includes fair economic increases of seven percent over the next three years, significant improvements to sick leave, WSIB pay, benefit plans and $2000 sign up bonus. Union walked off the negotiation table laughing at it. Apparently the sticking point is dispute on full control of the shift booking by the employees themselves. The city alleges it is trying to stop scheduling practices that rack up unnecessary overtime costs. If the unions say we are not worried about the wage increase and the dispute is the shift booking, we also suspect something is not right there because they know that even if they get zero wage increase they can make up that lost income by booking the shift accordingly that it will be considered as wage and half or double. Which other industry gives this kind of liberty to employees..? I agree that employee’s convenience should be a consideration factor for deciding their shifts but not full control to the point that they misuse it for monetary benefits looting the tax payers. As a taxpayer where do my rights weigh in here..? Unions around the world stand to protect the employees from exploitation of the management. Isn’t it the union exploiting the tax payers in this case..? No other city in North America and in the world, a union has so much control over the day to day running and management of an institution.
Auditor General in his last year’s report has clearly mentioned, overtime by city workers as one of the tipping points to curb the wasteful spending of the city in order to sustain valuable programs and not to raise the property taxes of the already high taxing residents. Ottawa residents pay more taxes than any other cities in Ontario. Raising taxes are not a solution to our never ending problems. Controlling wasteful spending like streamlining city employees, cut programs which are not reaping rewards and stop giving away unnecessary overtimes are equally effective. This move by transit union is completely wrong when city is trying to find $$$ to keep their valuable programs running and cut back on essential services and reduce garbage collections to once in two weeks. While your garbage is rotting and smelling in the house, you know that, some of our tax dollars are looted by some sections of the privileged in the name of overtime.
All this is happening when many of the industry giants are on the edge of bankruptcy and many sectors are facing massive lay offs. I think there is universal agreement that there are more important things than what either side is debating. As a high tech employee I haven’t received a penny as a raise for more than five years because of the economic situation. I consider myself lucky if I have a job to go to let alone wage increase and overtime. If you compare the transit worker’s salary to a software designer’s salary in Canada you can see transit employees are already in the top bracket and being rewarded for their stressful job.
Another option of hiking the transit fares is already done couple of times in this year to meet the rising cost and keeping the wheels of OC traspo buses moving. Also believe me if you can, city’s managing staff in numbers are higher than the total employees who are managing New York City. I don’t know when city is going to take action on that kind of things.
This unpopular move by the union is at a time when many major essential services run by city are under threat because of funding issues (paramedics, old age care..Etc). So we have to stop the leak in our treasury and the dripping dollars to the few and worthless programs so that we can continue to enjoy Ottawa as we know it.
Many of the university students and high school students depend upon public transit and school buses were agreed to serve them in this crisis but OC transpo workers threatened to picket school buses that were willing to transport high school students who use OC transpo. The buck has to stop here and we need more civilized people around us.
The arrogant nature of the union leader is clearly visible when he had quoted in the mid night of the strike “ ..to cause maximum disruption”. He also addressed the picketing workers in the city hall yesterday saying “ Keep up the good work….”. I wish he had said that when the employees are at work, working long shifts and carrying people from place to place. I will see that as leadership. It is also understood that majority of the employees are opposed to this strike but the union doesn’t even want to put a vote on the city’s latest offer, fearing it will be voted in favor by the employees. May be our country is democratic but not some of the institutions like this union. They run under clear dictatorship. The union has walked off the negotiating table thinking people will solve their problems. Not this time..People in this city know what is at stake and even with some hardships they will unite and put an end to this.
When a political wing calls for a Bandh or Harthal in India without knowing the repercussions it is having on the people and economy, it is blamed as an incident in a third world country. Then, how can you justify the actions of the few top brasses in this union..? Do they understand how many millions are lost directly and indirectly every day because of the strike…? By the way India is no more a third world country.
Who wants to come to a stand-still city for World hockey championships..? Ottawa will be projected as a city of broken infrastructure if this continues for long and we will be never get awarded any major event if we don’t fix this quickly. Are we one of the top ten cities in the world from bottom..?
Our Mayor deserves salute in this hour of crisis for standing up firmly even though he knows lots of things are at stake. If we give in to this today, tomorrow some other unions in the city will do the same. When the technology bubble burst and many industries struggled for survival the management strictly controlled the spending and told the employees to tighten their belts. No one went on strike or complained because that is the order of the day. They all worked together to make things happen by putting companies interest first rather than their personal ones. Most of the employees never got raises for many years even in high tech industry.
War and strike should be explored as a last option in any dispute, not the first option. If mankind hasn’t learned it from our last example of Iraq, then we shouldn’t be calling ourselves twenty first century creatures. It is a shame if a single person loses their life directly or indirectly due to the OC transpo strike before they go back to work. Hope City can draw the union to the negotiating table and find a way to end this dispute in a fair manner. The earlier it is done, better for every one.
A few suggestions:
• In this situation mayor should look into options of hiring or using some buses from other cities and running the main transit routes like 95, 96 and 97 which will help unclog the traffic from down town core and will be a big relief for the commuters.
• City should declare OC transpo, Para transpo, Paramedics, health care workers, fire fighters and cops as central service so that they won’t be able call strike for any stupid reason.
• Boycott the OC transpo services one day to show public dissent over the issue. If they didn’t use the buses for a month what is there to reject it for one more day.
• Dissolve the union and run the OC transpo essential routes with retired and experienced drivers and workers during this period.
• Do not give any pay to employees for the striking period.
• Suspend the top union leaders from service for not letting the employees’ voice heard.
• Use ott.rides news group or ottawaridematch.com to arrange car pooling to get to your destinations.
• Announce a wage freeze across the board in the city as Federal government did last month.
Jeri Rodrigs is an information technology engineer and social activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada. You can provide feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org