Sunday, December 04, 2011

YRT/VIVA Strike 2011: The Full Story

The YRT/VIVA Strike has been going on for over six weeks now in York Region and has reulted in only 40% of the York Region Transit's routes are in operation.    What happenned to transit service in York Region?  Whose to blame for the ATU Locals 1587 (representing Miller who has the YRT contract for Markham area & First Group who has the contract for Newmarket and Aurora areas) and 113 (Representing Veolia Workers for both VIVA drivers and the current at work Vaughan area) walking out? 

This is a complicated issue with the Region of York, the Unions (ATU 113 & 1587 locals) and the contractors (Miller, First Group and Veolia) themselves. The best way to figure out where the issues lie and how this the whole labour dispute can be resolved is to separate out the parties involved and look at their angle indvidually and then see how each party is strategizing to get their way (The Skinny).

The Region of York

The Region of York amalgamated the old municipal transit systems of Vaughan, Richmond Hill, Markham, Newmarket (which had previously amalagamated with Aurora) and sections of GO Transit providing service on Yonge Street and Bayview Avenue from Finch Station to form York Region Transit.  All former transit agencies had contracted out the operations to invidual contractors and remained so even after amalgamation.  Hence, this is why the Region of York does not directly employ any mechanics or drivers, as these employees are directly employed by the contractors. 

The privatized model for the Region worked well for both the predecessor municipal transit agencies and the York Region Transit until 2008 when ATU 113 Union members (VIVA Drivers) went on strike.  The Region stayed out of this strike and let the union and the employer, Veolia Transportation, negotiate a contract.  The only move the Region of York successfully completed was to seek a court injunction against the ATU 113 from blocking buses entering and existing Finch Station.  This resulted in an agreement betwen ATU 113 and the Region of York over the picketing of Finch Station.  The 2008 Strike only lasted about 3 weeks once the Union members started to notice the public was not on their side  and ridership was substituting other YRT and GO Transit services to bypass the VIVA routes that were out of operation due to the strike.

Fast forward to 2011 when the ATU Locals 113 & 1587 all had expiring contracts during 2011.  The Region continued and continues to stand back yet encouraging the unions and contractors to return to the bargaining table.  The Region even refuses to, like in 2008, to seek a court injunction to limit picketing at Finch Station and other transit terminals by the striking ATU locals.  The Region's and York Region Transit's main line has been: "York Region continues to encourage resolution of the issues between the unions and contractors involved in this dispute." 

The Region of York and York Region Transit (YRT) has yet to say how long the strikes can go on before transit contracts with the respective contractors can be cancelled and retendered due to refusing to contractors inability to provide legally contracted service under the contracts. 

The Companies (Contractors)

Veolia, Miller and First Group are all companies of varying sizes and have varying histories with York Region Transit.  All contractors directly look after the operation of their contracted YRT routes including the employement of drivers, mechanics, cleaners, etc.  The contractors, therefore, control how many employees are hired to operate the routes successfully and not the Region of York.  Miller and First Group started operations for York Region Transit as contractors for the previous municipally run transit agencies while Veolia came along later when the VIVA system was started.

Miller Transit operates the Markham (south-east division of York Region Transit) from it's headquarters and yards on Woodbine Avenue in Markham

First Group took over the contracts vacated by Laidlaw when that company went bankrupt.  First Group also operates school bus routes throughout Canada and the United States under the name "First Student".  This company currently has offices in Newmarket

Veolia meanwhile came later when VIVA rapid transit service was introduced and has since won the contract from the Region of York for the Vaughan (South-West area) that Can-Ar formerly had.  Veolia was also the company that had the 2008 Strike against it by ATU 113.  So it is eyebrow raising that the Region of York would award Veolia the contract for the South-West area to Veolia considering the labour issues of 2008 with the VIVA drivers and ATU 113.  Veolia operates two Region of York owned yards in Newmarket and Vaughan for both VIVA and YRT operations.
Miller & First Groups seem to be drawn into this strike by the ATU Unions themselves.   At no time in York Region Transit or the previous municipal transit agencies has there been a strike or walkout by the workers.  Meanwhile, Veolia has only 1 strike in 2008 by ATU Local 113 workers.  But the strangeness persists that there was no strike for Veolia workers until they switched to the ATU Local 113 led by Bob Kinnear before the 2008 strike.

All three companies had labour contracts end in 2011 by ATU.  First Group  (January 31st) and Miller (March 31st)  had contracts end in 2011 that are publicly viewable by anyone online.  Meanwhile Veolia has had two contracts come up for renewal in 2011 without any contracts being publicly available.  In fact, ATU 113 is not even listed as a local on the main Amalgamated Transit Union local section, so one wonders what this union local and the company has to hide in it's contract.

However,  A Veolia press release says that Veolia's Viva  drivers current negotiations were for a current contract to start on September 5, 2011 and onward. The Region of York reported that a new contract had been reached between Veolia's south west YRT workers, represented by ATU 113 and Veolia in February 2011.  Thus, Veolia has a contract with the South-West workers under one labour contract currently valid while ATU 113 walks the picket lines without a labour contract with Veolia for VIVA services. 

The Unions

Both union locals are members of the Amalgamated Transit Union and seemingly walked out on October 24, 2011 together over labour contract negotiations with Veolia, First Student and Miller Transportation.  The unions were almost joined by GO Transit workers of ATU 1583 on the same day.  But GO Transit workers reached an agreement with GO Transit & Metrolinx on the eve of the strike. As well, the Veolia South-West contract was confirmed in February 2011.

 If both GO Transit and Veolia South-West had joined their counterparts the entire Region of York transit system would have been shut down.  However, luckily enough this scenario did not come to fruition.

The Unions claim the companies mistreat their workers in terms of sick time, pay and other similar issues.  The Union Locals claim their workers currently recieve no sick time and often work while sick otherwise they lose pay.  The locals also point out that their workers receive much less pay ($7.00 less per hour according to Bob Kinnear) than a TTC driver doing a similar job.  As well, there have been noted complaints about split shift scheduling and long hours of driving time with little in the way of breaks.  

Since the strike has started, only ATU Local 113 has returned for session of negotiations with Veolia for one day.  ATU Local 1587 has refused to even talk with Miller and/or First Group to resume negotiations.  This seems a little suspect as it looks like ATU 113 would be attempting to get a deal with Veolia in which ATU Local 1587 might piggy back on with Miller and First Group. 

However, the optics look worse when the 2008 history is taken into account. Back then, VIVA drivers were on strike with ATU Local 113 and in legal trouble with the Region of York when the Region was attempted to get a court injunction to limit picketing.  As well the VIVA drivers did not have much support from the public then due to striking workers interupting transit service at Finch Station and being generally disruptive.  Others  pointed out that VIVA drivers were not really missed either as alternative transit routes were available at the time.  Therefore, it is no wonder why ATU Locals 113 and 1587 wished to go out at the same time to maximize the disruption in transit services to the Region.

The Unions have called upon the Region of York, through rallies and letters to come to the negotiating table as well to help resolve the dispute.  Basically the Unions want the Region to be part of the negotiations claiming it is the Region who sets operating schedules, break time at the end of driving routes and other items. 

The Region of York, via Chairmen & CEO Bill Fisch, has refused to be at the bargaining table pointing out the contracts are negotiated between the contracted companies (i.e. Miller, First Group and Veolia) and the unions (i.e. ATU Locals 113 & 1587).  Rick Leary, General Manager of YRT, rightly points out that the Region does "... tell them how many bus drivers to hire." The Region only sets the route schedules (i.e. depart times and arrive times at differing time points at the beginning, middle points and end). 

The Skinny

The negotiations are between the contractors and the Union Locals and not the Region of York.  The striking workers knew when they accepted the job the would be working for Miller, Veolia or First Group and not the Region of York when they signed their contracts.  If not, the workers should relook at their initial employment contracts and where their pay cheques originate.  I would bet none of the contracts or pay cheques originate from the "Regional Municipality of York" or the like.  Further evidence of the worker's relationship with the region originates from York Region Transit General Manager Rick Leary who noted in a Torontoist.com article:  "We don’t tell them how many bus drivers to hire." What Mr. Leary is saying is the Region doesn't hire or recommending hiring of bus drivers, that is up to the individual contractors to figure out with the Union ATU locals. Therefore, the workers should not expect the Region of York to negotiate or be part of the negotiations with the unions and the contractors.  The workers, after all, signed their employment contracts knowing full well the Region of York was not involved in their employment situation in terms of pay, sick leave or even if they should be hired in the first place. 

Some of the Contractors, mainly in frustration with the ATU Union Locals 113 & 1587,  have released some contract details publicly via their website (i.e. Veolia) or via correspondance that the Region of York has released (i.e. Miller).  No word on contract offers or demands from First Group or any of the ATU Locals has been released as far as I can find similar to the Veolia and Miller formats noted above in a detailed layout released by the individual parties involved (i.e. ATU Locals 113 & 1583 or First Group).

The main reason the companies would release this information is their belief the companies have offerred a fair package to the union respective union local members and yet the local negotiation team has rejected the offer.  At any point, as ATU Local 113 has seen in the 2008 VIVA Strike and the recent YRT South-West strike, workers can demand these offers to be voted upon.  But these demands from the union local membership to vote on the contract offer has yet to become known.

The contractors release of contract proposals seems to be a fair agreement between the Union and the Contractors.  Let's take a look first at Veolia's offer followed by Miller Transit's Offer:

The elements of the proposed contract are as follows:
  • A two year Agreement effective September 5, 2011, to September 4, 2013
  • A wage increase of 3% in year one and 2% in the year two
  • Implementation of a sick day policy effective on the date of ratification. Employees would be entitled to four (4) annual sick days at six hours pay if unable to work the full day.
  • Shift premium for maintenance employees on the night shift of 75 cents/hr.
  • Three (3) weeks of vacation after four (4) years of time in service.
  • Health Insurance premium with 55% paid by Veolia and 45% paid by the employee in Year one and 60% paid by Veolia and 40% paid by the employee in Year two.
  • Annual boot allowance of $120 for maintenance staff and $70 per year for drivers.
A two year contract with 5% increase by the end of the 2nd year and 4 sick days allowed with six hours paid per day?  That seems quite reasonable along with 3 weeks vacation.  Let's remember that that unlike TTC Drivers, VIVA Drivers do not have to ensure fare payment as this duty is the responsibility of YRT/VIVA duly deputised and trained  Special Constables and Fare Inspectors.  As well VIVA/YRT drivers do not have drive in the same traffic conditions as a TTC Streetcar or bus and are quite often not dealing with vehicle capacity issues where YRT/VIVA customers have to be left behind.

Miller has also released recent contract offers via a letter to Region of York Chairman & CEO Bill Fisch:

"Miller has offered a total of 13.5% over a 5 year contract an average of 2.7% per year."

It should be noted that Miller has not released sick days or other contract terms like the Veolia Offer but I would imagine similar clauses as the company and Union Local 1587s previous contract would also be included.  The only issue seems to be the need for sick days on the Miller contract as the currently expired contract makes no mention of Sick days except for personal leave. 

For both Union Locals 113 & 1587 they continue to espouse the average pay difference is $7.00 between TTC and what YRT Drivers make.   Union membership needs to remember that:

a)  Individually the drivers signed their contracts with Miller, Veolia or First Group with the amount of renumeration clearly spelled out in the contracts and union contracts.  These same workers in the past could have easily signed on with the TTC and for whatever reason either chose not do so or were not hired by the TTC.  

b) There are differences in responsbilities between TTC Drivers and YRT Drivers including obtaining fares from passengers (VIVA Drivers do not), traffic issues (York Region has less traffic volume and congestion than downtown Toronto), passenger loads (less over capacity busses on a regular bases for YRT than TTC), number of passengers carried and vehicle types (TTC: Subway, LRT, Streetcar and Buses and YRT regular bus and articulated bus). 

c) As Regional Chairman & CEO Bill Fisch noted the difference in demands for pay increases between ATU Local 1587 and Miller and other agencies is vastly out of range of other transit agencies in Ontario.  Fisch notes that GO Transit had a 3 year contract ratified, ironically, by ATU Local 1587 that saw wage increases of 2% in year one, 2% in year 2 and 2.3% in year three.  As well Fisch included OC Transpo (Ottawa) settlement that saw a wage increase of 2% in a one year contract.  Thus, a 16% wage increase in year one as requested by ATU Local 1587 seems a little ludicurous especially in this economic climate. 

The Unions counter both the Regions claims the Region is not involved in negotiations and the Contractor's offer  with claims that the two sides are too far apart and arbitration.  The Region though is not involved in the negotiations at this time and the Union knows there only negotiation partner is the company's contracted by the Region as they are the employer and not the Region of York.  What the both Union Locals failed to point out is their lack of willingness to negotiate with the company's themselves.  In the Miller letter, dated November 15, 2011, to Regional Chairman Fisch it noted:

"The Union showed little interest in bargaining substantive issues.  Its admitted strategy was to secure strike mandates from GO employees and the three YRT contractors with the intention of creating a major disrupting of service, to inconvenience as many people as possible in order to extract the maximum concessions and to force the Region to the bargaining table....The Union did not even table a financial position until after the 18th session. The union seeks increases of over 20% over a three year contract, with over 16% in the first year."


The above sounds like the Union Locals were both not interested in negotiating a new contract, but wanted both the Region at the negotiating table as well as a massive labour transit strike to put the maximum pressure on the table.  But the Region has rightly stayed out of the negotiation process as they are not legally involved in negotiations.  Further detrimental was the ratification of the GO Transit employees who also did not walk out with their Union brothers and sisters.  What is most notable is the absence of GO Unionized Workers on the picket lines at Finch Station while off duty. 

The Union Local 113 & 1587 have become frustrated with mainly the Region. The Unions have stepped up picketing at Finch Station, Richmond Hill Terminal, Bernard Terminal and the YRT South-West Transit Yard on Calidary road to disrupt existing YRT operations in order to affect transit riders the most via delays which cause dangerous overcrowding conditions on many YRT Routes that continue to operate. 

The Region will need to respond to the Union's increased picketing lines affecting YRT operations.  As previously noted, the Region of York started legal action in the 2008 VIVA Driver Strike to prevent ATU Local 113 members from picketing Finch Station and other key transit notes.  The question arises as the ATU Local 113 and 1587 start disrupting YRT services with picketing is when will the Region start the legal process to stop the picketing practices? This causes addtional questions to surface like how will the ATU Union locals respond to the court injunction? Will police from Toronto and York Region respectively enforce the court injunction?  On these question only time will tell. 

The Unions also have some issues to sort out themselves.  Both Union Locals have spent more time and energy in publicly communicating and picketing the Region of York who is not even at the bargaining table than the respective contractor.  I find it really strange that the unions have spent more time picketing at the Region of York's Newmarket Headquarters and Region of York Transit Terminals than employer offices and maintenance facilities with the exception of Veolia's contracted yard in Vaughan on Calidari Road where existing routes during the strike are operating out of.  The Union Locals therefore seem to be only interested concentrating their efforts in taking their frustrations out on the general public (i.e. the YRT passengers) and those not involved at the negotiating table (i.e. the Region of York) than the contractors (i.e Miller, Veolia and First Group).

 A more tactful response for the Union Locals would be to picket the huge Miller Operations Yard on Woodbine Avenue in Markham, First Group in Newmarket and the Veolia Yards in Newmarket and Vaughan. This would disrupt the contractor's own operations causing the contractors financial hardship instead of the general public trying to get to work and their political representatives. 

The only way for this entire labour dispute to come to a resolution is if one of the following happens:

1. The Union Locals and their respective contractors have successful negotations or, failing these negotaitions some arbitration.  The arbitration would take into account the contract stipulations with Region of York and the company's ability to renumerate the ATU Local employees.

2. The Region of York voids the contract with the contractors over failure to provide service as contracted. 

Right now this entire situation is in the ATU Union Local 113 and 1573's hands.  Union Local Leaders Bob Kinnear and Ray Doyle can continue posturing about wanting the Region to come to the table or these same men can return to the negotiating table with the contractors.  The latter option is what the employees signed up for when signing the contracts, to be employees of Miller, Veolia or First Group and not the Region of York or the TTC.  Kinnear and Doyle should respectfully go back to the negotiation table and talk honestly with the contractors to reach a deal.  Failing that the Union Locals may find that the Region of York may act, and I would be the ATU Union Locals 113 and 1587 will not like the action whether it be a result of a court action or a voiding of the contract with the contractors.  Actions resulting in legal action or resulting in unemployment are never a good thing for the union members.  Hopefully Kinnear and Doyle realise this before it is too late.

3 comments:

  1. You are joining the rest of them comparing ONLY TTC. Go have a look and compare the remaining transit agencies in the GTA and beyond such as Durham, Brampton, Mississauga, Hamilton. Funny how all those places have lower fares, better service frequency and hours, better paid bus drivers. Remove the middleman (contractors) and you free up MILLIONS of dollars from the profit these 4 contracts are bringing into the 3 private companies.

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  2. Oh.. one thing I forgot to mention. Since the drivers are striking legally, the contracts between the region and contractors cannot be canceled. 40% operating transit service in York Region could be reality for at least a few months more if not even longer.

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  3. Hi Mike T905,

    Thank you for stopping by.

    The contracts the Region would cancel would be between the contractors (i.e. Miller, Veolia and First Group). There are probably clauses in these contracts if the contractors (i.e. the companies) fail to provide service. Any good lawyer would have this clause inserted into any agreement let alone a tender document from a municipal government.

    I also noticed in researching this that in the previous contracts with Miller and First Group, as posted on the ATU Canada website, the workers have layoff provisions. Well, without a contract, I would imagine these companies (i.e. Miller, First Group, Veolia) could easily say "hey the Region ended our contract because we couldn't provide the service, so your all layed off!"

    The workers had better be careful on the picket lines, because they may just find themselves out of a job if the Region of York legally ends a contract with the companies for failure to deliver service.

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