Is Local 113 Out Of Its Mind?

Note that I have closed comments on this thread because, at 92, it’s getting a tad long.  Please continue this discussion in the “Back on Track” thread that I have just created.

I came out of my hotdocs screening late this evening and, riding home on the subway, heard a totally garbled public announcement.  No black band on the One Stops, but we all know they’re a waste of time.

Emerging at Broadview, I ran into a CITY TV camera crew and learned of the strike which starts as I write this.  I was not a happy camper.

Until now, I have stayed out of this battle and have been generally supportive of the union in response to some rather intemperate comments by readers here.  However, the way this strike arrived shows just how badly Local 113’s communications, internally and externally, have fouled up the situation.

The whole business started with the Worth a Million campaign.  I was one of the people asked by Marilyn Churley to read through her report before it was published, and flagged some of the more glaring problems with the logic.  However, it’s clear that the slogan had been picked already, the website domain name purchased, and the thrust of the campaign already decided.  Fine tuning the message was not in the cards.

This campaign raised a lot of bad feelings not least because it portrayed the huge benefits transit gives to the city as coming totally from the staff without acknowledging the political support and funding that makes the existence of the TTC possible.

Then came the bargaining.  Little information leaked out from negotiations, but what did was not exactly useful in establishing a strong position for the union.  As the deadline neared, we heard about how the poor underpaid Toronto members needed to be the best in the GTA.  It didn’t take long for the press to find out that the actual difference between Toronto and Mississauga was five cents.  Moreover, once Toronto got even the two percent originally offered by the TTC, they would leapfrog back into top spot.

We heard about sick pay for workers injured by assaults, and the clear indication was that the TTC addressed that one before the ink was dry on the press release.  Then it turned out that Local 113 wanted full sick pay for any injured worker, but this took two weeks to come out.  When challenged on this, Bob Kinnear said, in effect, “well, that TTC spokeman is wet behind the ears and didn’t know what he was talking about”.  Oh?  It took two weeks for the union to decide that the TTC was putting out misinformation?

Finally, we come to today’s vote.  The story is that the maintenance workers felt they had lost protection about contracting out.  Hmmm.  If this was such a problem, and if some of the union executive couldn’t bring themselves to sign the agreement, why did it take until today for this news to surface.  The maintenance workers are less than half of the total workforce, but clearly others voted to reject in support of them.

Worrying about the safety of its members, Local 113 pulled them out at midnight rather than waiting 48 hours.

“We have assessed the situation and decided that we will not expose our members to the dangers of assaults from angry and irrational members of the public,” said Bob Kinnear, ATU Local 113 President.  [From the press release.]

The only irrational people here are in Local 113.  They have consistently sent garbled messages to the public, and possibly even to their own members.  If contracting out really was on the table, as opposed to the suspicions of radical members of the executive, then the union should have made this clear as a deal breaker.  As things stand, it is nothing more than rumour.

Whenever they do return to work, Local 113 members can expect the cordial relations they enjoyed with the public after averting a strike to evaporate.  Every operator who goes for a coffee, who throws his passengers out into the rain, who argues over a transfer will be subject to abuse.

Both sides are expected to meet the Provincial mediator on Saturday afternoon, but mediation or no, Queen’s Park should tell Local 113 quite bluntly that this irresponsible behaviour is unaccetable and force them back to work immediately.  Given the mechanics of such legislation, we could be without transit service until Wednesday if procedural foot-dragging prevents passage of an emergency bill in one day.

Local 113 has blown its relationship with the most pro-labour Commission and Council they could hope to have across the bargaining table.  From here on, who can trust their signature on a contract?

I am sure my regular correspondents will write to say “we told you so”, and I have to say I am deeply disappointed.  Once again, the cause of transit is set back by events that have nothing to do with improving the system.