Sunday, January 29, 2012

YRT Strike: Where does it Go From Here

Saturday afternoon Ray Doyle, Union Leader of ATU 1587, announced his union membership had accepted the offer from Miller Transit with an 80% approval rating and thus ending the 3 month plus  YRT/VIVA Bus strike of 2011-2012.   Earlier this week Bob Kinnear, Union Leader of ATU 113, announced his union local membership had accepted the offer from Veolia Transit with a 77% approval rating.  Meanwhile, the Region of York had earlier cancelled the YRT Services Contract for the YRT North Service Area with First Student and awarded it to TOK Transit.  Thus, with the Strike ending and promises of resumption of service starting February 4th after a little bit of driver training and some bus maintenance, there a couple of questions to consider. 

1. Why did the strike drag on so long?

The main reason the York Region Transit Strike took so long was the union leadership of both Union Locals 113 (Bob Kinnear) and 1573 (Ray Doyle) seemed more interested in trying to bring in the Region of York into the mix rather than negotiating with the private contractors of Miller, Veolia and First Student.  A great case in point is found in this interview with ATU Union Leader Ray Doyle where he spends most of the interview bashing the Region of York and it's Chairman and CEO Bill Fisch than talking about why he is not negotiating with Miller Transit or First Canada.

Both Bob Kinnear, ATU Local 113 Leader and Mr. Doyle spent more time calling on the Region of York to get involved by requesting binding arbitration from the province so his workers could return to work than they did at the negotiating table.  What's funny is when the Region of York did do something, by cancelling First Canada's contract, Mr. Kinnear files a motion with the Ontario Labour Board saying the Region of York is interfering negotiations by doing this right before a union membership vote on an offer from Veolia. First, Mr. Doyle and Mr. Kinnear wanted the Region of York involved in negotiations, then when the Region does enter by terminating a service contract with a contractor that has had very little negotiations with the unions, Mr. Kinnear cries fowl.

 Speaking of that particular vote, the Ontario Labour Board forced the vote via Veolia's request which took over a week to occur.  Meanwhile, in a similar situation Mr. Doyle's Union vote on a Miller Transit offer dook a mere two to three days to occur.  Why did Mr. Kinnear wait over a week for the vote to occur?  Was he trying to make sure all his membership fell in line to vote against the offer?

The Region of York rightly pointed out throughout the negotiations that it contracted out all transit operations to three service companies: Veolia, Miller and First Transit and that the labour negotiations with the ATU Union Locals was with the companies.  It rightly ended the contract with First Student and asked the other companies to present a plan on how they were going to restore service.  The union leadership meanwhile finally got the message after First Transit was terminated that the only way forward for their membership was to negotiate with the companies.  

Before this past week of negotations that led to agreements between Veolia and ATU Local 113 as well as Miller Transit and ATU Local 1573, the union leadership had periodic less than one day negotiation sessions with the companies.  These meetings, optically, seemed only to show that the ATU Locals were at least attempting to meet with the companies and that it wasn't working.  This basically was orchistrated by the union leadership in order to try to pressure the Region of York to become involved and ask the province to order binding arbitration.   This tactic went on for months and is mainly why the strike dragged on for so long.  

Bob Kinnear, after ATU Local 113 Membership approved Veolia's offer, said the following:

“It is unfortunate (Veolia and York Region) penalized the people of York Region throughout this dispute and had to wait three months to finally come to the table and realize that your worth and the service you provide to the people of York Region is worth substantially more than they were offering up until a week ago,”... “Congratulations, brothers and sisters, you came out on top.” - Yorkregion.com story.

Bob still just does not get it.  The Region of York was not involved in negotiations between Veolia and ATU Local 113 membership.  If they did get involved you can sure bet Mr. Kinnear and his union leadership brethrin would have been at knocking on the doors of the Newmarket court house so fast, York Regional Police could have met their quotas for speeding tickets at the corner of Yonge & Eagle Streets in Newmarket.   Bottom line, this strike dragged on so long not because of the companies and the region, but because the ATU Union Locals dragged their feet in returning to the negotiating table with the contractor companies.  This is how Ray Doyle, Bob Kinnear and the union leadership penalized the people of York Region, by making politicial hay out of the contract dispute instead of faithfully negotiating with the companies over new offers.  If this wasn't political, then why was the three union contracts with 3 different companies representing YRT workers all end at the same time?  Weird timing isn't it?

This strike could have been a lot shorter if negotiations if the union leadership was actually interested in negotiating with their employers and not going after their employer's client, the Region of York.

2. Where do the unions go from here?

There really is no definitive answer about where the union leadership and/or membership will go from here.  But there are at least two ways (and probably more) the unions could take things:

a) Remain the same with their workers working for the contractors Miller, Veolia and TOK Transit.

b) Call on the Region to take remove the contractors from YRT Services and let union membership run the operations with Region management oversight.  This would show the union leadership continues it's interests in removing what it calls multinational companies making enormous profits off the backs of union members and have their union members enjoy some benifits of hard work. 

The other option would be once the contracts come up for retendering was to put in their own competitive bid.  The unions, ironically enough as noted before, did not do this when the last YRT service contract came up for the Southwest Division.   Hopefully the union leadership will put their money and efforts into what they are saying about their membership's employers and take action by landing their own contracts with the Region.  Otherwise it is pretty hypocritical of Bob Kinnear and Ray Doyle to say the Region needs to be involved if the ATU Union refuses to become involved when the time comes to talk to the region about transit service agreements. 

3. What will happen when service resumes?

Media reports and YRT press releases have noted February 4th as most likely start date for service to resume following the strike by ATU Union Membership.   This is so bus maintenance can be undertaken and driver retraining can be done to ensure proper safe operating procedures.  Not all bus routes will be up and running on February 4th as TOK Transportation, who was awarded the service contract for YRT's North Division, has until mid April to complete roll out of service to all routes  (Source: page 4 of this Regional Council report).

The Region of York has repeatedly promised 1 month free service to all customers when service resumes.  The question many have asked over at the Region's Facebook page is when this will start with replies from the Region of York stating details will be available this coming week.  But with TOK Transit taking it's time in hiring workers and rolling out buses to the North Division and YRT customers now with February 2012 monthly passes in hand how will the region equitably start the free transit service so all customers can enjoy the benefits? Many YRT/VIVA customers will be interested to see how this will be done. 

Relations between YRT/VIVA customers and drivers have become strained.  Many customers felt like hostages as the drivers refused work.  Many customers walked long distances to get to school and work while the YRT/VIVA drivers walked the picket lines disrupting existing services legally and possibly illegally.  It will be interesting to see how the drivers are treated when they resume service, expect private security, YRT/VIVA Special Constables and York Regional Police presence to stepped up at least the first two weeks of service.  

Overall the Union Leadership is to blame for both the duration of the strike and the return to work conditions their drivers face.  ATU Union Local Leaders Bob Kinnear and Ray Doyle spent more time battling with their employee's employer's client, the Region of York than negotiating with their employers.  This caused the strike to drag on unnecessarily for months instead of a short duration like in 2008 when VIVA drivers under Bob Kinnear negotiated and resolved their contract with Veolia.  As the strike dragged on and the tiresome rhetoric from Bob Kinnear, Ray Doyle and others, customers became frhustrated which has led towards animosity towards both the union leadership and the drivers. Thus, it is really the union leadership who are responsible as they had the power to quickly return to negotations with Miller, Veolia and First Canada and chose not to do so by playing political games while their union membership walked the picket lines loosing out on just over 3 months of pay cheques.

2 comments:

  1. Nice analysis, Michael. I agree with you that contrary to what it is saying, the union played probably the greatest role in prolonging the strike. And there's little doubt its actions were mostly about trying to overthrow the public-private model used in the Region, with compensation for its present members having been of far less concern than it now claims.

    Although (from what I am hearing) the locals came out with a little bit more than I think they deserved, we can be grateful none of their largest goals were accomplished.

    I'm curious, what do you think about the Region's plan to give us free transit service for a while? Many people are saying it's not nearly enough. Do you think they should do something else as well?

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  2. Hi Simon,

    There are two issues with compensating the ridership:

    1. Will YRT bungle the implementation of a free months transit by starting it mid February and not compensating the February pass holders by extending their pass validity into March? With YRT's implementation of the PRESTO system I wouldn't put it past them.

    2. Will YRT roll back the fare hike as well to attract riders after the free transit rides are over?

    The politicians at the Region did a mediocre job in this. They should have acted earlier by giving a 30 day notice to the companies that transit service needed to resume or the contractors could have their service contracts with the Region of York cancelled, canned, nulled, voided, etc. and offerred up for retender.

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