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Take that, Mayor Larry

bus_rally0001I spent a frosty lunch hour at City Hall today, at a rally to support the striking OC Transpo bus drivers and mechanics.

I don’t even care if the City’s offer was fair. No trade unionist with any sense of what it means to be a trade unionist could possibly, in good conscience, have voted yes under those circumstances. It has nothing to do with the offer and everything to do with the tactics used by Mayor Larry.

Speaking of Mayor Larry, it seems he found yet another thing to be profoundly bad at: labour relations. He was so sure he had his finger on the pulse of the members of ATU Local 279 that he wasted weeks trying to bypass proper channels and circumvent a legitimate collective bargaining process.

He spent his time and energy on everything but legitimate collective bargaining: waging a smear campaign against the union’s leadership, campaigning for public support, taking out full-page ads in the papers, commissioning a public opinion poll, lobbying the feds to take sides, and ultimately forcing a vote that only proved he was wrong. Again.

Mayor Larry has a history of getting his own way by circumventing legitimate processes. Look at how he got his job: bribery and influence peddling (trial pending). I’m grateful to the bus drivers and mechanics for not letting him get away with it this time.

Everybody who spoke at today’s rally was calling for an immediate return to the bargaining table and a fairly negotiated end to this strike. It’s what we all want, whether we’re bus passengers, bus drivers, car drivers, business owners, employers, students, whatever. We all want the buses running.

Hopefully Mayor Larry wants it enough to start respecting the process now instead of continuing to avoid it. Time will tell.

11 comments to Take that, Mayor Larry

  • As much as I am NOT a fan of ‘Larry the Mayor Guy,’ in my opinion he is receiving too much credit regarding the bus strike. Unions are not as straightforward and ‘pure’ as they once were. I have first hand experience at being part of a union in my younger years and there is LOTS of intimidation an d mismanaging of information at times in order to manipulate a vote. I’m not saying that this is the case here but….as we know, things aren’t always what they seem and the media isn’t always helpful when it comes to reporting the goods:)
    That being said, I sympathize with most affected by this situation and worry that the longer it goes on, the deeper it gets:)

  • Oma

    I doubt if Mayor Larry has ever known what it is like to work crazy shift hours while trying to balance family and a life … or if he has ever had to rely on public transit to get around … And, the man seems incapable of empathy without first hand experience.

    Certainly unions are not always the good guys … but Mayor Larry seems to make an awful lot of bad choices no matter what he puts his hand to …

    I believe this is the only full strike in many years. Other mayors seem to have avoided such confrontation.

  • TechWood

    As much as I don’t like the idea of someone being mayor while charges are pending on a crime that is directly relevant to that position, how much of this strike is his decision? How many councilors does it take for the city to take a stand on any issue. Seeing as it’s municipal government, I don’t suspect has has any veto power over the others, so I tend to believe that he’s taking the position of the city and not just his own.

    As for the strike, I think this one should be illegal, but before anyone shoots me, please consider the following.

    If the purpose of a union (any union) is to make sure “joe average” is treated fairly by any employer, safe work conditions are met, that they are kept on average with other workers in the same trade round the country, and that their employers don’t break employment standards, etc. Then this union was already in that position and has been for a very long time.

    I can’t put my finger on the chart that I saw last week – but Ottawa’s transit employees are in the top 2 positions compared to other transit workers across the country. From a municipal perspective, that’s pretty good seeing as Ottawa’s budget is far less than many of the others listed on that chart.

    I understand that the ideal time to go on strike is when it will affect the employer the most. However, working to rule seems a lot more appropriate considering the “horrific” treatment these employees believe is occurring in their workplace. There are a lot of employees in other positions outside of transit that should be unionized, should be on strike, and should be screaming horrific treatment. But this particular union is not only recognized as having a lot more than “joe average”, they are also providing an essential service that affects all the other average joe’s – many of them far below average when it comes to unions.

    With all that’s wrong in many other workplaces, heck, with all that’s wrong with so many other much more important things (e.g. homelessness, healthcare systems, global warming, constant crisis in the middle east) it all seems pretty petty.

    Here Ottawa sits with a population of almost 1 million, many depending on a public transit system in a very cold climate and what’s happening? The workers on strike because things aren’t perfect for them. Don’t get me wrong, I believe we should all get what we want – but that would require something that will never happen (remove the monetary system as we currently know it). Thus, without that happening, I think unions need to look at what’s acceptable and what’s really a strike vs work to rule issue. Afterall, it can always be renegotiated in a few years.

    I hate to be doom and gloom. But as I sit and watch things unfold here and around the globe, I think many would likely agree that we’re at a point where we should be appreciating what we have and not what we don’t have. Some may say that the worst is over as far as announcements regarding our economy, I suspect we’re just at the beginning on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the worst it’s going to get) I think we’re at a 2.


  • I agree 100% with TechWood.

    I do not support Larry O’Brien now, nor did I vote for him in the last election. I support the drivers’ right to strike, but I do not support their cause or their methods. In all, I think the ball was dropped by both sides.

    HOWEVER, the City did not go on strike. Larry O’Brien did not force anyone to vote “no.”

    It breaks my heart to think of the families who rely on services like the food bank to keep tummies full. Families who rely on Toy Mountain or other charities. The most isolated portion of our population – made even more isolated. And regardless of the actions taken by non-profits to reach everyone, there will still be a larger number than usual who fall through the cracks. During the holiday season, during a freezing cold winter, at that. Any sympathy I MAY have had for the cause was lost because of that.

    I just want them to get back to work. Unions are for fighting for fair and safe working conditions, not for arguing agendas. The bus drivers work in an (essentially) 24/7 service industry. Regardless of contracts, they had to have known that when they signed up to become bus drivers. As such, one must expect that as time goes on, circumstances will change – sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. But there contract negotiations require compromise on both sides. The City is telling the union “the current scheduling system does not work.” Instead of taking a “too bad” stance, why don’t they come back with an alternative that they believe is fair, but is different from their current system?

    And I don’t think O’Brien needed to run a smear campaign re: the union’s leadership. They did a fantastic job of running their own.

  • Nancy

    Larry O’Brien couldn’t take his OWN pulse; but then, there’s probably a good reason for that.

    He is a bully and harms everything he touches. I am quite certain that there is equal fault on the side of the union bosses; but we’ll never know what the “truth” is about who said what to whom and why, let alone the timing of any of the exchanges.

    The strike is truly hurting a lot of people in a lot of ways and it simply has to stop. Why aren’t negotiations going on NOW? What is sacrosanct about the weekends?

    I wonder what the results of the next municipal election will be should Larry be masochistic enough to run again…I hope to god he doesn’t, because with “our” track record, he would probably be re-elected.

  • Oma

    As a former unionist, I know that strike action is a last resort. No one wants to give up a month’s salary without good cause. I wouldn’t be surprised if Larry is holding things up and not negotiating on the weekends because the longer they are out on the picket line, the more money the city saves. Once he figures they have saved enough on salaries I imagine negotiations will be swift. It is too bad, as several people have said, that the innocent, and the weakest people are the ones who hurt in a situation like this one. You can bet that Larry is not suffering.

  • James

    I agree with TechWood as well…

    Here’s a couple of clips of Andre Cornellier, head of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279 (who doesn’t live in the province and continues to receive a full paycheck):

    I find it very difficult to take the Union’s position seriously when they’re telling me they don’t care about inconveniencing the people who pay their wages and use their services.

  • I know my position on this isn’t the popular one. But Mayor Larry appears to have deliberately antagonized the union by attempting to ‘prove’ that the members were against their own leadership. We’re all paying the price for that miscalculation on his part.

    Techwood, I agree with some of what you say. But the role of unions goes beyond what you’re saying and includes negotiating the collective agreement and getting the best package they can for their members. In a non-unionized workplace, individual workers ask for raises or wait for them to be awarded at the discretion of management. I would suggest that some individuals might not fair as well as others in non-unionized environments – women, for example. The role of the union is also to keep good jobs good.

    Management knowingly gave up their right to control scheduling some years ago. They traded it for something else. That’s how bargaining works. The union can’t be expected to give it back just because management has now changed their minds. It has to be negotiated. It has to be agreed upon.

    You say it can always be renegotiated in a few years. Well, that’s not necessarily so. Both sides need to be extremely careful about what they give up in collective bargaining, because it’s very difficult to get something back once you’ve bargained it away. Management made that mistake with scheduling. The union is refusing to make the same mistake.

    Meagan, and others – I agree with you that this strike is very hard on people, especially on the people with the least money and therefore the fewest options. I very much hope that the mayor will start taking the bargaining process seriously instead of trying to find ways around it.

    Oma – I agree, nobody goes on strike lightly. And it’s not about greed or selfishness, since striking usually benefits the workers who come AFTER the strike more than those who actually strike.

    Nancy, I know, the fact that Council took a ho-hum approach to scheduling the next phase of action speaks volumes about how they perceive this strike. They should have had Plan B in place BEFORE Thursday’s vote – not almost a week after.

    James – Agreed, he’s not a good spokesperson. But this strike is not about Andre Cornellier, and as long as the mayor and others continue to try to make it about him, the job won’t get done.

  • TechWood

    The issue I have with unions representing public service workers is that most that I know of are no longer bargaining to receive fair and just treatment (salaries, benefits, working conditions, equality across all workers, hiring practices, etc.).

    Once they reach the point of being a good place to work, unions should move on to find other employment areas that require their service to become fair/equitable places to work.

    If all the walmart employees unionized tomorrow and went on strike, I’d be in full support of them. In fact, I’d even go as far as saying that all of minimum employment standards need to be raised and some form of monitoring/evaluation process be put in place to ensure employees are treated fairly.

    However, I don’t know of any public service employee that have working/schedule/fairness/salary conditions that would justify them walking off the job over. Some have mentioned that a strike is always a last resort. A last resort over what types of things?

    What is really worth going to strike over and causing such grief to an employer and their patrons? The reason I ask is either I’m a sucker for punishment, or I have a very different set of values on what I believe constitutes being respected as an employee.


  • Oma

    Techwood: Unfortunately workers cannot simply get a decent deal and then rely on their employers to maintain the conditions they fought for. It requires constant vigilance to maintain decent working conditions and salaries. I have seen Quebec teachers lose all kinds of things because the younger teachers felt complacent and couldn’t be bothered to take up the union positions being vacated by older warriors who were retiring.

    It would be a rare employer who goes through the give and take bargaining process and then is magnanimous for ever after.

    James: One of the things that became very clear to me when I was on the front lines was that when unionists decide to worry about popularity with the public, they lose. Lots of teachers hated having to pull services from kids. We all went into teaching because we cared about the kids we knew were being hurt in the short term, but we realized that the system would be stronger if we fought for decent working conditions that would ultimately make us better teachers able to do a better job.

  • TechWood

    Oma: From what I’ve seen on this group of ATU employees based on their website, they’ve be in in a very comfortable work environment for at least the past 22 years – possibly more. I think there are ups and downs for any employer and for employees in any job, they’ve made a bit of headway in every contract re-negotiation that’s occurred that should be lots to be happy about.

    Again, I may be a sucker for punishment/have different values as to what constitutes something I’d be willing to go on strike over. I don’t think this is an area where there’s a David and a Goliath or a point in history where there’s a fight occurring over rights.

    I’ve had all kinds of schedules and other expectations put on me by non-union employers, some of which would be far beyond the beliefs of any of the ATU members. I can only think of one that I’d have taken a stand against by going on strike and in that case the standards of employment were questionable from a legal perspective.

    I think unions should make an effort to negotiate good contracts for their members. However, I don’t believe any of the issues currently on the table are worth striking over. There are many ways to take a stand if you don’t like something, be it publicity campaigns, working to rule, etc. a strike should be something that’s reserved for the worst employer/employee situations.

    Some unions may be battling to get fair/equitable treatment, but any that I’ve seen on strike in our region are all public service based and I don’t feel any have grounds for a strike either.
    There are many employers out there that couldn’t/wouldn’t offer the same benefits of employment – and I wouldn’t walk out on most of them either.

    If I had such an issue with the scheduling I’d offer to take a pay cut of approximately $1,500 gross/year per employee. Multiply that x 2300 and you have the $3.4 million that the city wants.

    The employer this is affecting isn’t some sleazy slave driver that’s putting its’ greed ahead of essential needs of employees. The people that it’s affecting don’t have a choice of vendors as in the case of a commercial supplier.

    My position as a city would be pretty simple and hardlined at this point. I wouldn’t regard the 3 million/week in savings on salaries as a bonus or benefit of the strike. I’d ask that the ATU take they offer as it stands this week or next week I’d take the salary increase back. The following week I’d take the savings on salaries and begin applying it to the legal and administrative costs in privatizing and/or contracting out the service. A city with 320,000 people dependent on public transit can’t be without it and as others have pointed out giving in to the ATU at this point would set precedent now and in the future.

    I’m not anti-labour, but I do realize that most Canadians live pretty darn high on the hog. Public service employees have it pretty cushy compared to a lot of the private service. Those working in essential or “expected” services have a one-up to everyone else – their jobs won’t evaporate when the economy takes a dive. Ask an IT worker or someone in retail/service industry if they have any expectation that they will even be employed by the same employer in 3 years.

    That said, I believe most employers offer something far better than the “minimum expectation” that our government has put into law and until they raise those expectations, people should be thankful for everything over and above the minimum which they receive.

    There are many things that I could see as worth fighting over and disrupting the population of an entire city, perhaps even the entire country over, ATU contracts isn’t on that list.

    I suspect as other have said, the city will take the easy way out – either save more than the union is giving up by being on strike and then give in and grant the scheduling concession or wait until the drivers cave and save the money without giving in. If they are really thinking ahead, they’ll do the above knowing that over the next 3 years economic times will hit home for the majority of the residents and make massive cuts during the re-negotiation. Transit is one of the few areas the city can make cuts to without any backlash from the province. With most mandated services (the ones that were downloaded by the province to municipalities at 5% below 1997 provincial costs) having gone up drastically, it’s not looking good for even larger cities like Ottawa when it comes to how many cuts they will need to make.

    Always the eternal optimist,