Back on the Rails?

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. 

10 thoughts on “Back on the Rails?

  1. As a union member (not ATU), there is a whole process in place for dealing with issues, it’s called the grievence process.  This is part of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), signed by the union and employer.

    The maintenance workers, upon learning of a sudden shift change, should have grieved it, that would have gone through the normal channels, and the Union and Employer would work something out.

    Steve:  I would hardly call it “sudden”.  This proposal was discussed in a public meeting in January where Bob Kinnear appeared as a deputation (!!) to argue against a proposal for changes in cleaning schedules and shift arrangements.  An odd way to conduct labour relations, but that’s what he did.

    None of the issues raised in the last few days are things that can’t be worked out.  For example maybe a barrier between operator and passengers, similar to that in police vehicles.  If a passenger doesn’t pay his fare, stop the vehicle and press the fare dispute button on big brother.  Usually other passengers will resolve the issue, long before a supervisor shows up.  A supervisor can show up with a constable, who will resolve the issue.


  2. One of the things I always liked about the TTC was that the drivers were accessible — as opposed to, say, transit systems in Germany (where I spend a lot of time) where the driver is completely sealed in a plastic booth, tickets are sold and validated by machines, and the only way to speak to the driver is through a microphone embedded in the plastic (like at Money-Mart).

    Riding the Queen streetcar, there is usually a conversation going between the front passengers and the driver, and you notice little things like when the driver slows down to say hello to the driver of another streetcar, or helps a passenger carry their bags to the curb.  It’s all very human, in contrast to the machine-like efficiency of the German system.

    The safety of our drivers is more important, of course, but I’ll be a little sad to see things change.


  3. I am a scanner listener who listens to TTC daily and I was absolutely shocked at Howard Moscoe’s naive and downright disrespectful statements on the news that the TTC employees are exaggerating when it comes to the assaults that occur.

    While I don’t know the statistics, based on what I’ve heard first hand, TTC operators are assaulted on an almost hourly basis!!!!

    While it was a 26 Km round trip (half of it UP HILL in 90 degree plus weather!), I CAN NOT support the managment of the TTC in turning a blind eye to the daily abuse and assault the operators suffer.

    Steve:  I think that the TTC has been very lucky that Adam Giambrone has been doing much of the media appearances rather than Howard Moscoe.  There are times I have thought Adam was a bit naive as a Councillor, but he seems to be growing into this position.


  4. “Originally the TTC was going to cut jobs as part of the “saving” to come from moving jobs to the night shift.”

    How did the TTC ever expect to save money by moving jobs to the night shift?  In every industry I am aware of, unionized or not, workers receive a shift premium for working the overnight shift.

    Steve:  See my reply to an earlier comment.  The original plan was to do the same work with less staff because they could work more efficiently without passengers cluttering up the platforms.  The salary savings would much more than offset the small shift bonus.


  5. I certainly hope legal action is taken against Kinnear.

    Even if the TTC were to build the world’s best transit network, it would all be worthless if wildcat strikers go unpunished.


  6. As a city council candidate who is basing my entire campaign on the TTC, I really feel that this strike can only hurt the cause of a better overall TTC.

    First of all, I feel personally stabbed in the back, finding out only 3 hours before I had to take the TTC.  I work the night shift, and on Sunday, when a very small number of media reported on this possibility, I literally had 9 hours between shifts, and therefore no time to really get the info.  Radio news is my only source, and they did not pipe up until their 5:15am pre-report.  Since I do not have enough money for a taxi, I walked home.

    So be it, it is done; its not the walk I am upset about.  It’s the totally unexpected nature of this.  I hear comments that this was brought up in January, well to be blunt, hoping that 800,000 riders remember a small story 5 months later is just a ridiculous assertion.  Frankly, part of the whole problem is the TTC is under funded; this is basically my entire campaign, but I dread to think what people will say at the door when I tell them that they should give a bit more money to these people.  This is a short term ‘victory’ that will have long-term repercussions. I’m very disappointed and frustrated, and I don’t know what more to say.


  7. I think opinion in the city is as close to unanimous as you will get.  Listening to talk radio shows and general conversation today, there is a good deal of anger at the union.

    The city has a mayor and many councillors who are usually deemed to be “leftish” and labour-friendly.  The union would have found some sympathetic ears at City Hall, before they pulled this amateurish move.  They have squandered that.

    This surely does not bode well for the next round of contract negotiations.


  8. It seems to me that support of the general public was in no way factored into the union executive’s thinking.  Instead, this was simply a ‘shot across the bow’ at the Commission and its management — in response to the proposed movement of some work to the night shift.

    I see it as a management prerogative to schedule work.  I have no idea of the merits of the idea of rescheduling the maintenance as the TTC is planning/proposing.  With the system being busier now than in the past couple of years, perhaps this works better?

    Regardless, the union is simply saying that it will not make it easy for management to make these types of changes.  The strike is an instrument of deterence against management exercising its prerogative to organize what work will be done when.

    Steve:  The original proposal last January was to move a lot of the cleaning work to the evening/night shift when there were fewer passengers in the way and to do the same amount of work with fewer staff.  This was rejected by the Commission who decided instead to not lay off staff, but to preserve these positions on night shift so that an even better job of cleaning the system could be done.

    It is management’s right to manage.  If they propose new shift arrangements, and the union doesn’t like the way they’re doing it, they should go to arbitration.  If the union wins there and the TTC still refuses to budge, then go to the court of public opinion backed by an arbitration ruling.


  9. What do you think about share-taxis/jitneys?  There was an article not so long ago in one of the papers about how Toronto is not particularly taxi-friendly.  At the time I dismissed it as not relevant to transit — taxis are expensive.

    But during the strike all I could think was how we were too reliant on the TTC as our single point of failure.  And then all I could think was that, dammit, why doesn’t Toronto have share taxis like a lot of major cities in southern countries do — jitneys they’re also called, apparently.

    Share taxis aren’t a heck of a lot more expensive than transit. Had we had them, things would have gone a lot smoother.  And I can’t believe they’d take so much money away from the TTC; they’d end up especially getting used on routes where the TTC just isn’t present or isn’t very efficient anyway, or else people wouldn’t need to take them.

    So?  What do you think about jitneys?

    Steve replies:  The problem here is one of capacity.  Jitneys can supplement but not replace transit.  Also, as for serving out of the way locations, well unless there are a fairly large number of people in those locations, the jitneys, like regular taxis, will go where the fares are.  For example, I live near Broadview Station and can almost always get a cab simply by walking out to the street.  I don’t have to go far from downtown where cabs are few and far between, and the ones I see are already taken.


  10. As someone who knows all parties involved, all I can say is that it has been a sad week for transit in our great city. Rick and his workers took the blame while others take the credit. It has always been this way, and always will.


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