Back on Track

I was walking east on Bloor Street not too long ago expecting to come all the way over to Broadview.  As I came to Sherbourne Street, what do I see?  Open doors on the station and the sound of a train rushing through.

I walked downstairs, swiped my pass and then went down to the eastbound platform.  After a short wait, along came a train and I rode over to my home station, Broadview.  Upstairs, I found a King and Dundas car waiting to leave and a few buses roaming the streets.  It felt very much like the start of service in the morning.

It’s good to see the system back up again and “showing the flag” before tomorrow’s commute.

As I’ve said before, I am deeply disappointed in the behaviour of Local 113’s leadership (assuming anyone can even figure out who that is), and reports that they have a shopping list of added items for arbitration shows just how badly things were out of whack with the original “agreement”.

I am going to close off comments on the previous, strike-related thread just to keep that from growing completely out of control.  Please leave any new comments here.

52 thoughts on “Back on Track

  1. People have to think that in a country like Canada, even if the TTC contracted out its operations, most of these private sector workers would be unionized and still able to strike (and likely still paid well). As such, situations like this would still happen in any “natural monopoly” like public transit. Overall, even with the ATU, we have pretty good track record on strikes (compare us to France for example). I’m not a left wing union lover, but just wanted to interpose a reality check here – labour strife is a reality unless you adopt a true right wing anti-labour environment (and do you want ten dollar an hour workers driving our subways and buses?). The real alternative is an anti-transit environment (like much of the US) where private car drivers replace buses and subways and there is no one to go one strike, just freeway grids, and the resultant grid-lock.


  2. My understanding is that the TTC spends about $10k-15k for the initial training of each new driver trainee they take on. If the trainee doesn’t successfully complete the training period or quits, that’s wasted money for the TTC. If the training period is completed but the driver does not make it through a probation period, again that’s wasted money. And if the driver makes it through the training but quits soon afterwards because they don’t want to put up with often harsh working conditions (and I know two people who fall into this category), again that’s wasted money. Some members of the public and some politicians seem to be under the impression that driving is a low skill job requiring little training (and minimal training budget) by the TTC. If they knew the full story about how few candidates actually translate into a good training investment for the TTC, they probably wouldn’t be so quick with the “fire them all” rhetoric.


  3. re: people not wanting to work for the TTC

    The reason behind the high overtime in many unionized environments is a high rate of absenteeism – not a lack of applicants. (I’ve read that the TTC union absentee rate is about 7%.)

    As in any workplace, some people are motivated to work more hours – like the now famous booth operator who made it onto the sunshine list – while others are less so. For every worker that picks up many extra shifts – there is one (or more likely several) making a habit of being absent.

    This shift of hours from the overly-absent to the overly-overtimed costs the TTC money. Management probably doesn’t have any leverage for addressing absenteeism. The TTC could just hire more people – but with the high costs of benefits, it’s cheaper to absorb the overtime.


  4. In responce to Calvin Henry-Cotnam’s comments about the 48 hours: Fair enough, however I do point to recent negotiations with GO bus drivers. They rejected the agreement 2 or 3 times before finally getting one they could go for (and even then with only 55% of the vote IIRC) and never went on strike once.

    At MINIMUM the city should mandate some kind of warning period; I’d personally be fine with 24 hours.

    Lastly, just because you have the right to do something does not mean you should. There is no reason the TTC could not go on a fare strike, or work-to-rule. Just because they have the ‘right’ to take the system down does not mean they should.


  5. I am less sanguine about arbitration-mediation (the government’s term for what it imposed) than Steve is. If you read the government’s backgrounder on the billl, a “collective agreement” will be imposed by a third party for at least three years. They’re not exactly clear in the backgrounder about what happens if negotiation continues and the two parties reach an agreement, but I suspect we’re going to see an imposed agreement.

    So both the ATU and the elected representatives of Torontonians have had their rights and powers suspended. But Ontarians seem to like having their control over public affairs taken away. Under Harris they cheered as the school boards were gutted and power centralized in the Mowat Block.

    Steve: I work for a school board and believe me there was no cheering here. Note that power was centralized not by messing with bargaining rights, but by changes in how the boards are funded. No board has a “right” to be funded, and attempts to centralize control at the Mowat Block date back at least two decades.


  6. Mike wrote, “Thousands apply for every TTC driver position, and only a few hundred make the first cut, then they are further reduced in number by not completing training, or washing out as a driver in service. ”

    Absolutely, and this backs up the point I was making. The comments I have heard suggest that it is not merely ‘thousands’ applying, but that there are tens or hundreds of thousands willing to do so.

    Naturally, there has to be a filtering process because of the costs involved. Not everyone has what it takes, but a limited number of people applying in the first place reduce the number that will be in the final cut.

    sam wrote, “TTC spends about $10k-15k for the initial training.” I have heard from general HR circles that it can cost $20k-35k to recruit a person when all costs are considered, so there is a case to some extent to spend money on overtime.

    The fact still exists that given the market conditions, TTC employees are not ‘overpaid’. At the wages they pay, they cannot poach lesser-paid employees of other transit agencies (who are people that would cost them less in training than someone off the street).

    On a last note about Nick J Boragina’s comments, I fully agree that what ATU 113 did was stupid and ridiculous, and that just because one can do something is no reason that one should do something. I just wish people would stop going on about things that, though surprising, were not out of the possibility of reality. More specifically in this case, acting like a promise was broken when the promise did not apply to the current conditions, though common sense would dictate that it should have. I guess this is no different that some of the claims on the ATU 113’s web page about decertification like the ‘fact’ that if the union were decertified then the TTC could just pay minimum wage. Legally, they could and no one should be surprised on the level of seeing someone defy gravity, but common sense dictates that would not happen.

    It looks like I’m just pointing out the obvious: there is little common sense in the leaders of ATU 113.


  7. Rob states: “It may not be the case that a lot of operators are in fact community college or university educated, unless you look on place of origin terms only. (like immigrants from India who are educated but can’t get a job in their field over here). But I do think that the type of person that the TTC would be more interested in is someone who fits their demands as far as customer service, driving abstract, etc. and who DOES have some sort of post secondary education. You don’t need to balance chemical reactions or design buildings to drive a bus but education does prepare people for better decision-making and responsibility and those are both requirements of these jobs. Maybe this is an advantage to the higher pay rate, if indeed those people are applying.”

    I’ll relate that when I was hired by the TTC, their major interest in my resume was the fact that I had spent the past twenty years working in various customer service/sales/marketing positions and that I had supervisory experience throughout my previous career. They were looking for “life experience” in their potential candidates. The fact that I also had a clean driver’s abstract as well as some experience driving large vehicles (class D licence once upon a time) helped as well. They did state that they can teach MOST people to drive a bus. My feeling is that you graduate from training as a bus driver and spend the rest of your career at TTC becoming a bus operator (there is a difference between being a driver and being an operator). And by the way, I do have a post secondary education as do a lot of the operators that I know. Most of us have come to this career after being down sized by corporations that are outsourcing or eliminating positions. We arrive in mid-life seeking a stable employer that can offer us some degree of job security with decent pay and benefits.

    As to those right wing types who say fire them all and hire people for $10 per hour. I don’t think I would like to ride on the TTC if every operator was brand new and every mechanic was fresh from apprenticeship. Experience definately counts on this job and newbies learn from the experienced. If people are willing to do this job for $10 per hour with no benefits, why are they not willing to apply at the current pay rate and benefit package?


  8. To respond to Calvin Henry-Cotnam: if the promise did not include this juncture, they did not make that clear. I have friends who stood out waiting for a bus on Sunday because, without reading the news Friday night or Saturday, because of the 48 hour notice.

    Regardless of if they had promised to do so, or if they had the ability to do so, I am saying that to do so is wrong. If Kinnear had promised a 1 hour strike, and if the law allows for a strike with an hour’s notice (and it does), it does not make such a thing right.

    We can discuss essential services in due time, but city council should act NOW to mandate that the union must give 48 hours (or at LEAST 36) notice before withdrawing services.


  9. I’m glad to see that people realize that it’s totally unworkable to have corporate bloodbaths and then rehire people at $10 per hour with no benefits because I’ve run into a number of hard right leaning people who wouldn’t give it a second thought.

    From knowing several people who drive for the TTC for a long period of time, the pay and benefits package the operators receive is probably the only thing that is preventing the attrition rate from skyrocketing. The working conditions can be tough, and the management is vicious. Removing any incentive to stay at all (fire them all, then bring them back in at $10/hr + no benefits) would send the turn over rate sky high. That would cost tremendous sums of money in training expenses walking out the door every time someone quits and result in service problems due to unfilled crews.

    Would you want to stand on the corner waiting for a streetcar wondering how long it might be until one shows up because there may or may not be enough people driving them that time of day?

    Would you want to ride through the tunnels on a subway train piloted by whoever managed to stumble into the employment office at Hillcrest, who’s getting all of $10 per hour to operate millions of dollars worth of equipment safely with upwards of a thousand people on board?

    Would you want to ride on a bus maintained by a $10/hr mechanic with minimal training knowing that the MTA in Baltimore had problems with bus tires flying off due to maintenance issues?

    This doesn’t even address the fact that safely operating a public transportation vehicle and the associated maintenance jobs are skilled jobs and have to be compensated accordingly otherwise people will find work elsewhere and you end up getting what you’ve paid for.


  10. Well – we had unionized employees at the time of the subway crash a few years back. The TTC has had unionized employees killed in the tunnels. Unionization CAN be an impediment to safety where the union challenges terminations over safety violations. (I don’t know if this happens at the TTC.)

    I used to work for a large chemical company. The amount paid to plant operators didn’t vary between the union and non-union locations. (The union at one location went of strike for 7 months over something ridiculous – and 20 years later they have no site anymore.)

    As a conservative, I’d love to see people get paid more – but this needs to go hand in hand with better performance. If the ATU would reduce absenteeism, it would make sense for the workers to see a raise out of it – just as an example.


  11. What I would cringe at with a private operator in charge of the TTC is not only the calibre of the staff but the upkeep of the equipment.

    Maybe now a mechanic looks at a bus on a hoist and says to himself – “that bulkhead should really be replaced now, it looks like it only has couple of more months before it may fail.” The work likely would get done. In a private outfit he may tell his supervisor who says, “just let it go, we’ll worry about it later.”

    Of course the latter would almost always be a result of money talking. Multiply this effect across a system like the TTC, with not only vehicles but tunnels, substations, etc. and you are bound to see more preventable failures occur.

    At times I feel annoyed by the amount of waste seen in government agencies, whether it’s the TTC or Public Works or Hydro One but at the end of the day that “slack” in the system may be necessary just to maintain a good level of safety and service. Based on the companies I have worked for I have little faith in management to do the right thing when it comes to looking after assets and building maintenance, at least until the right thing is the only choice left.

    And you don’t have to look far to find a frustrated small business owner who has several teenagers or slightly older people on his staff and who is frustrated to no end by lack of commitment of these employees. People today simply don’t bother showing up if they aren’t in the mood for just $10/hour. Just because collective bargaining sees workers receive a lot more than they may without a union doesn’t mean those people should be faulted. The credit schemes we have may almost be stretched to the limit. How many here would expect to have to work 60 hours or more a week in the next generation just to make minimum payments on a mortgage? I bet it’s a real possibility.


  12. re: absenteeism

    Rob says:

    “People today simply don’t bother showing up if they aren’t in the mood for just $10/hour.”

    It seems that’s true with TTC workers at more that 2.5 time that – so this is not a wage issue.

    Private companies have more incentive in many cases to keep equipment safe and operational – because there are real financial consequences if they are not. (Did anyone in the TTC lose money or their job over the Russell Hill crash?)

    Steve: The people who should have lost their jobs were the senior management and politicians who kept cutting the maintenance budget year by year while happily reporting to the Commission that “the money in this budget is sufficient to keep the system in good order” or words to that effect.

    The political imperative at the City and at Queen’s Park was to cut costs, and if that meant that systems were allowed to deteriorate, that’s the risk they took. The problem with situations like this is that at the operational level, all sorts of people make judgement calls in response to budget cuts.

    The accident came about through a combination of poor maintenance (the malfunctioning trip stop arm and related problems), poor signal design (inability to tell the difference between a timing signal that would clear and one that would not), and an operational environment where the style was to run as close to red lights as possible. Of these, two speak to lax procedures (maintenance and training) and one to poor design. The most important part of this, the physical system, depended on maintenance to make up for shortcomings in other areas, and what should have been multiple possible points of failure all hinged on a single subsystem.


Comments are closed.