This item has been updated with many comments from readers. For the original post, click on “more”.
As I write this, the familiar sound of Bloor-Danforth trains rumbling across the Prince Edward Viaduct wafts through my window.
Today’s TTC strike was a sour way to wake up after a beautiful weekend. As I lay in bed listening to various reports and interviews on Metro Morning, I couldn’t help thinking that this was not what the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 was hoping for.
I did a short interview myself on that program, working as best as I could from limited information and from my knowledge of TTC history. One vital part of that history is that both sides need to be credible if they hope to get public and political support. Many years ago, a long TTC strike destroyed the political career of then-Chairman Karl Mallette. He had been a great “opposition” member of the Commission, but when he wound up in the Chair’s office, he had to wear anything his management did, good or bad.
Rightly or wrongly, the strike was considered Mallette’s fault, and he went down to defeat at the next election. A cautionary tale for David Miller and Howard Moscoe in present circumstances.
That episode led to the creation of the post of Chief General Manager, someone who was supposed to be the Commission’s man, not part of management. It didn’t work out that way, but that’s another story.
Listening to and reading pronouncements by the ATU local’s president Bob Kinnear, I’m having a hard time figuring out what the issue is, let alone whether I should support the union’s stance. The official reason for the strike is that maintenance job shifts were changed, and the union doesn’t like it. Indeed, it was the maintenance workers who walked off the job and prevented the operators from taking vehicles out of the yards this morning. The operators didn’t even know there was a strike on and showed up expecting to work.
Meanwhile, we get a lot of talk about staff security. This is a serious issue, but the staff who triggered the walkout were not operators, and the strikers seem to be piggybacking on an issue they hope the public will understand.
When all of this broke, the idea that Kinnear could not be found for negotiations or to take delivery of the back-to-work order is a bit of cat-and-mouse which is very, very amateurish. If you’re going on strike, legally or otherwise, you need to be “out there” with your message explaining to the public why this action is necessary. Kinnear surfaced for a 7:15 am interview on Metro Morning but he didn’t add much to the discussion. His feigned ignorance (both in the morning and later in the day after a second ruling) that he couldn’t comment on something he hadn’t seen was not credible — the union was a party to the afternoon hearing and would have received the ruling at the same time as the TTC.
The TTC is taking a reasoned, calm position that this was an illegal strike, that the security issues are already in hand and that the place for discussion of the work hours of staff is an arbitration panel. The union may distrust the TTC’s sincerity, but those are the rules of the game. If the TTC has a specific timetable for implementation of security measures, this should be published so that everyone will know what’s going on, not just vague statements from both sides.
Without question, Local 113 blew it with this strike. They have wasted an opportunity to raise important issues about security not just for staff but for the travelling public as well. They have alienated riders against the very TTC staff who will now have to put up with more abuse thanks to a strike they, the operators, didn’t call. They have missed the chance to present a clear bill of complaints about TTC labour management practices, assuming they have a coherent list to present.
As I said in a reply below, if we’re keeping score, this is an “own goal”.
I have received a few comments about the TTC strike as responses to the thread below about fare scofflaws. These comments have been moved here to keep strike-related items together.
David Crawford wrote:
At the risk of sounding like an echo I must say I totally agree with you Steve. Judging from the way the TTC management treats customers I suspect they do not have great employee-relations skills either but for the Union President to call a wildcat strike about an issue they had not been bringing to the public’s attention and trying to resolve (through public opinion if the Management was not responding) is stupid.
I actually feel rather sorry for the front-line union members as passengers / taxpayers are not nearly as likely to take their legitimate concerns seriously.
Rebecca Wenman wrote:
It’s happened & here we are on a hot smoggy Monday May 29th with a TTC work stoppage.
The general public, businesses and services pay the price for this job action. The public being stranded and the economy possibly set to lose millions of dollars depending on the length of this disruption does not see, or cannot understand how unresloved workplace issues can disrupt a public service.
Not to say that I agree with the TTC workers or anyone resorting to this strategy but drastic actions can bring results. I have seen illegal walkouts over night shifts & weekend work. Issues relating to worker’s health and safety (ie:drivers being assulted) are legal grounds for an employee to refuse to perform that job function and I’ve seen this as well, all too often.
I too rely on the TTC and won’t be able to get to work until this work stoppage is somehow resolved. Let’s hope that for everyone’s sake that TTC managment & union can somehow foster some kind of working relationship to get the people back on the buses, streetcars, and subways.
And I replied …
What disappoints me most in this is that the ATU folks have done a lousy job of getting their message out. If there were many simmering issues on the table, they should have made this information widely available and forced the TTC to respond publicly to the situation. Instead, we had what seemed to be a non-issue — the business of fare collection — that took up everyone’s attention last week, and then, out of the blue, a wildcat strike on an issue that has not been in the media since January.
If this goes on more than one day, particularly after a back-to-work-order, the union will have lost any good will that might have come their way on the security issue by wasting a walkout on something affecting a handful of employees (the question of shift changes for cleaners and track maintainers). Security and safety for employees are important and if they’re the issue, they should be front and centre.
If you’re keeping score, it’s not one for TTC management, it’s an “own goal” by the union.
Luc Ventura wrote:
As much as I would like to control it, my hatred for unions today is becoming infuriating.
Yes, unions have a place, but not in a state-run monopoly. The general public doesn’t deserve to be held hostage to the interests of whoever is behind today’s action.
And I replied:
The real question is to find out what the details are beyond the ongoing debate we’ve had for the past week. Originally the TTC was going to cut jobs as part of the “saving” to come from moving jobs to the night shift, but instead they decided to do more work to clean the system better. As to security, we need some hard stats to identify how often staff have this problem and whether it is confined to certain areas, and we need to know when the TTC will be rolling out in-vehicle cameras not just to protect their staff, but to protect the general public.