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.

92 thoughts on “Is Local 113 Out Of Its Mind?

  1. In response to ode:

    What really do we, the TTC-riding public have to complain about other than being stranded far from home with practically no warning. Bitching about getting here and there? I was under the impression that was what the TTC was for, and Toronto being the large city it is sometimes you have to rely on the TTC to get anywhere (by the way, trivializing the difficulty for people to get across town after a late-night shift at work, or to do anything at all in their own city by calling it whining and bitching is entirely uncalled for and rude).

    I was lucky enough to be offered a ride home from an acquaintance going the same way as me, but as we’ve read here not everyone was so lucky.

    You talk about your suspicion of the vote being rigged like we the general public should have known about it – well, sorry but how exactly were we to know anything about the voting process until you brought it up just now.

    As anyone reading this can probably tell I am pretty pissed off. Others have put it quite well already: “holding the people of this city hostage”. As unfair as it may be to those TTC employees that voted yes, I hope the province steps in and shows your ridiculous union what’s what. Hope you enjoy your time off, I’ll be counting the days I’m adding to my April metropass…


  2. I have always supported unions, I work a job that puts me at risk daily and there is nothing protecting me or ensuring I’m paid appropriately for the risk level of my job and also for the level of training and skill that I have. Instead my company can do as they please to make the most money off of its employees with little regard for the wellbeing of its personal. This story is true for most of the security industry. Unions are the driving force behind setting what is acceptable in none union settings. Unions provide a safe guard for workers ensuring employers provide a tolerable work environment.

    But Local 113 knows what power it has, Local 113 has the power to strand MILLIONS of people. The power the bring the 4th largest city in North America and 3rd largest transit system to its knees. The massive ramifications a TTC strike has leave long-term damage. A strike by the Local 113 infringes on peoples freedoms. Why does the government not treat this for what it really is, a violation of human rights. Because that is really what a TTC strike means for many people.

    I make enough money to take a cab to and from work, but most people who rely on the TTC don’t have that option. And what happens to those people? I’d like to find out how many people lost their jobs because they could not get to work.

    In my job I can’t leave until my relief is present, working 19 hour shifts is not fun. Having to pay 35 dollars daily to get to and from work is also not fun. Mr. Kinner obviously has no soul, How can you sit back and watch people suffer directly because of your actions. I’m very much opposed to violence … So I suggest to anyone who wants to assault operators and other TTC staff to direct that anger to Mr. Kinner since he most defiantly deserves the brunt of that abuse. Since that man clearly has no soul or human decency.


  3. Just a comment about Steve’s comment (in reply to Deb McFarlen — hi, Deb): How did the union lose all claim to fair treatment because of what it did Friday night? The word which seems to be used most frequently here to describe the effects of that action is “inconvenience.” So for causing inconvenience they’re supposed to have their rights whipped away from them? How is a strike supposed to work if it doesn’t inconvenience someone? It’s not as if people weren’t getting to the emergency wards. If the NDP votes for the back to work law they will lose my vote. They’re a labour party and should support labour rather than the Nanny State.

    Steve: The issue is responsibility. Stranding people all over the city on almost no notice, and staging a strike in such a way that, were it to continue into next week, people would have difficulty arranging rides to work because of the weekend, shows that the union doesn’t care about the impact of its actions. This is not a case of a strike against, say, GM where the fact that no cars come off the line for a few weeks doesn’t matter to anyone.


  4. Thornhill to Etobicoke (approx. Yonge & Steeles to Dundas & Kipling)… there is no way I could afford to go to work by cab daily.

    The last time I cabbed it all the way home was almost 10 years ago. It was late at night, so there was little to no traffic to deal with and it it was from the Union Station area back to Thornhill (so it was south to north both central not the work commute that also adds in the central to west factor) and it was just shy of $70. Thats one way. I am not sure what the rate increase over time would be and what it would be like in traffic but I am sure I don’t make that much in a day’s work and I don’t love my job enough to pay to do it.

    Granted, I am not in the greatest of shape and even if I were, who would walk/jog/run/bike literally the equivalent of a marathon twice daily? Once you get there where to store the bike? Or better still a place to shower/clean up for work? Really, would I be in any condition to actually do work once I got there? After all, who in the general populous could at a moments notice could just up and do a marathon, without training for it? Then do it a second time 8 hours later?

    I work at a call centre, it is a fairly skilled position. There are benefits and no job security. I thought job security was a thing of yesteryear. People no longer work at the same job for a life time… its not a current reality in Canada. There are no guarantees in life and some of these workers seem to want one.


  5. I do think that the lack of 48 hour notice by the union is a red herring. Had Bob Kinnear given 48 hours before having his members go on strike, Dalton McGuinty would still be legislating the union members back to work.

    Steve: Probably, but you wouldn’t have a city full of would-be riders pissed off at a strike with no notice at all.


  6. “Difficulty arranging rides” justifies suspending civil rights, then? I don’t see it.

    Steve: Bargaining is a right. Going on strike, on almost zero notice, for reasons that are, putting it mildly, muddled, is not, at least not politically. As I have said before, the union needs the public on its side for political support, and they have used the worst possible means of holding and nuturing that support.


  7. Ode wrote, “Please help me make noise about this RIGGED vote.”

    While I am not in a position to say that is preposterous, I am reminded of a saying that has been attributed to about a half dozen people: “Don’t ascirbe to malice what can easily be explained through incompetence.”

    I am not suggesting ‘incompetency’, but am thinking that the saying would be more appropriate to every day life if it were appended with “or confusion.” This struck me when I read Gord’s comment, “The Tentative Agreement had definate unclear language in many places and this led to much confusion.”

    I can only imagine how a few confusing points can throw a wrench in a machine like ATU local 113, give its size (both in numbers and in geography). In another comment, I mentioned a past life in a unionized position. That was a local with under 1000 members that were all in one place, so everyone could attend the Q&A session preceding a ratification vote.

    There was one such meeting where in addition to presenting the members with the terms of the tenative contract, the local executive had to also pass on some administrative details concerning an adjustment to how pay periods were to be defined. These administrative details had absolutely nothing to do with the contract we were to vote on, but confusion about it lead to a focus on it that quickly appeared to be festering into a rejection of the contract. I had the clear head to get up to a microphone and give a fairly short but straightforward clarification of the administrative issue that helped get things back on track, and get to the contract vote where people could decide their choice without being distracted by the other issue. The local president made the effort afterwards to thank me for my clear explanation.

    As I said, I can only imagine how confusion on a point can spread like wildfire across members of a local like ATU 113.


  8. As Bradley (above) says, it’s good (and really not unexpected) to see, here and elsewhere, that some members of Local 113 strongly disagree with the calling of a snap strike – even if they might have voted against the contract – and I too hope that they will “…take them[selves] to ATU 113 and say “look, here is a group of people who used to be strongly on our side. Now they’re not. Something has to change.”
    The ‘leadership” of Local 113 has a lot to answer for, they have certainly pissed off people who used to support them.


  9. This strike has greater implications for the country as a whole than most Torontonians realize: many other transit systems will be negotiating new conrtracts, and what happens in Toronto is often reflected elsewhere. So it goes here in Ottawa and the summer talks with OC Transpo. We could have a repeat situation here, since management and Union of both systems are frighteningly similar. To which I say to Toronto’s management and union: Way to go, guys! NOT!


  10. Had Bob Kinnear given 48 hours before having his members go on strike, Dalton McGuinty would still be legislating the union members back to work.

    Steve: Probably, but you wouldn’t have a city full of would-be riders pissed off at a strike with no notice at all.

    Steve, with respect, that comment of yours is a bit of a giveaway. What you’re saying, in effect, is that the workers would be just as screwed, but people like yourself would be happier. I don’t see how that changes anything, frankly.

    Maybe the thing to do is to find out why two-thirds of Local 13, against the advice of their own leadership, were angry enough to hit the bricks. That might be the start of a real discussion: in the meantime, spare me your moralizing.

    Steve: People like me being happier is entirely the point. We are the people (not just bloggers, but voters in general) whose political voice determines what politicians will do. Piss us off, and we will be less likely to oppose mandatory arbitration or enforced settlements.

    There are, broadly speaking, three groups of voters: those who think unions are agents of the devil and that all union members should be fired yesterday; those who are willing to listen to both sides, but who can be shifted one way or another by a persuasive argument or a force majeure like an unexpected strike; those who will support a union’s right to do anything, anytime, no matter how unreasonable.

    It’s the people in the middle that the labour movement needs, and the ATU has done a terrible job of explaining the issues that triggered the strike. The only information that has surface to date is rumours about outsourcing warranty work and about maintenance staff transferring to the operators’ group. This wasn’t mentioned by anyone in the union during the entire period the negotiations were in progress. Why not?

    Was that 65% no vote in response to what was really in the contract or to unfounded rumours? Was there a deliberate attempt to misrepresent the contract to stir up “no” sentiment? If the opposition was really that strong, how could the executive, or at least part of it, claim that they had a workable agreement with no concessions?

    Outsourcing and job losses would have been a legitimate beef, if that’s really what was on the table, and the union could have got public support on their side to have this straightened out without a strike.

    I make no apologies for what I have written, and feel my position is entirely consistent and fair in separating public anger at the rank and file from the incompetence of their leadership. The executive needs some very basic lessons in managing their message and avoiding situations where an “us against them” mentality develops. Lose the public, and you will never get a good contract.


  11. In most unions, the rejection of a recommended collective agreement is a vote of non-confidence in the bargaining committee….the committee should resign.


  12. Now that the buses are rolling again, I am less angry. I do have to say however that some people seem to miss the whole point. I would not have a problem if McDonalds went on strike – I’d eat at Burger King. If Wal-Mart went on strike, I’d shop at Zellers.

    There is no alternative to the TTC, and in fact, the law does not allow anyone to even compete. If the union wants to keep its power to strike, then they should accept the possibility for private competition of transit services. No union should have the right to take down any monopoly, that is not “Civil Rights”, it’s stupidity.


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