Thursday, January 29, 2009

Transit Strike Truths
The 50-plus day bus strike is over -- but it isn't over for property taxpayers just yet.
Binding arbitration will resolve the issues -- but it also may result in an additional property tax increase for ratepayers who are already contributing 20% of their property tax dollars to prop up a bloated, inefficient transit service.
Who is to blame ? How did we get into this mess in the first place ? It's what happens when an employer gives something away during one round of collective bargaining and then tries to get it back in another round.
In this case, back in 1999, the city gave away an important management right -- while OC Transpo management continued to post schedules, bus drivers gained the right to sign up for the shifts THEY wanted -- by order of seniority. That's why there are some senior bus drivers working back-to-back 11-hour shifts.
What did the city get in return from the Amalgamated Transit Union ? Bus drivers and mechanics gave up a 2% wage increase.
In the intervening years, the city found out just how expensive giving up a management right could be. Overtime costs skyrocketed from just under $2 million to a record $8 million today.
Although ATU spokespersons say this strike has not been about money, don't you believe it ! It's been all about preserving the goose which lays the golden overtime egg.
Who were the great geniuses on City Council who approved the 1999 contract ? Who was on the city's negotiating team ? As there have not been any major changes in the makeup of City Council since 1999, presumably some of these rocket scientists are still warming seats at the Council table today. They must have been dozing off during the Collective Bargaining 101 session -- otherwise they wouldn't have missed the point that from an employer's perspective, the "Management Rights" clause in the collective agreement is THE single most important clause. If you're sitting on the union side of the negotiating table, it's your job to whittle away and weaken this clause as much as you possibly can -- until management has no rights. If you're sitting on the employer's side of the negotiating table, it's your job to preserve management's rights, no matter what the cost. Mayor Larry O'Brien wasn't around in 1999, so don't blame him. Blame the "lifers" on council who voted to accept the 1999 collective agreement with the ATU. Blame the negotiating team who didn't have the foresight to see what would happen.
And who were the bright sparks at City Hall 20 years ago when the city asked the Canadian Urban Transit Association to get it excluded (along with Gatineau and Windsor) from federal national hours of work legislation ? This legislation sets out the number of hours truck and transit drivers can work without a break and the number of days they can work in a row without a day off. OC Transpo drivers don't want to be regulated by this legislation -- that's why the last round of talks broke off. Again, the goose which lays the golden overtime egg had to be protected.
Did you know that OC Transpo pays time and one-quarter for the first eight hours worked on a Sunday and time and one-half for every subsequent hour worked ? No wonder some senior drivers choose two 11-hour, back-to-back shifts on Sundays -- they get time and one-quarter for the first eight and time and one-half for the next 14. Imagine the impact that has on a defined benefit pension plan!
What about safety ? According to OC Transpo boss Alain Mercier (in an interview with the Ottawa SUN's Sue Sherring) there are some drivers working around the clock for 22 hours on a Sunday. Mr. Mercier also told the SUN columnist that 13% of the drivers are getting 50% of the overtime, there are some who work seven days a week and some who never take days off. Just how safe are you if you ride on a bus driven by one of these drivers ? A recent U-S medical study into sleep deprivation concluded that someone who had gone without sleep for 24 hours was just as impaired as someone who has .08 alcohol in their blood.
Take a look at what you're paying for transit service when you get your property tax bill in April. The city's auditor general has found massive inefficiencies at OC Transpo and has suggested that millions could be saved for taxpayers through improving efficiencies in routes and scheduling. City Council tried, in this round of bargaining, to put an end to the OC Transpo overtime boondoggle. We have to give them points for that. But Council should never have given scheduling away in the first place !