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The View From Here: More transit investment should be public demand

The View From Here
Column by Alan Pickersgill

Guelph Transit has placed a notice at all the bus stops in the city.

It says the reason the buses are not running is a “labour disruption.”

It’s not true. The real reason is a management disruption. The bus drivers and mechanics have been locked out, and the public has not been given a credible explanation why.

The two sides will, sooner or later, find themselves in the same room, sitting at opposite sides of the same table. They will be talking to each other and eventually they will come to a resolution they can both live with for the next few years. There is no good reason why the buses can’t run while the talks are going on.

The two sides almost got it done a week ago. Last- minute bargaining produced a tentative agreement that both negotiating committees could recommend.

City council ratified it for the employer side. The workers met in the Unifor Hall on Silvercreek Parkway last Sunday. They studied the tentative agreement, asked questions, got answers and took a vote. The deal they were voting on was a modification of the offer they turned down by 94 per cent the week before.

The vote results were not announced, but the local union president said it was turned down “overwhelmingly.”

What would normally happen next in any mature bargaining relationship is that both committees would step back and analyze what just happened. Then they’d get together and talk about what is broken and find a way to fix it.

Instead of that, the city decided to throw a bucket of oil onto the fire. The chief administrative officer, Ann Pappert, issued a statement in which she said: “Guelph’s transit riders will be left without service until the agreement is reconsidered and accepted by the ATU membership.”

There you have it. No more give and take. No more tweaking, taking a bit from one contract clause and moving it somewhere else. No more moving funds from one envelope to another. No more doing the things that unions and management have been doing for years. Instead, throw the passengers under the bus. Let them be collateral damage in the city’s determination to punish the drivers for their intransigence. Behaviour like this tends to exacerbate disputes rather than calm them.

The only credible explanation – not a good one, but believable – is that the city is trying to head off a possible strike when the schools and university get going again in September. This is a dangerous manoeuvre.

To succeed, it requires the workers to get fatigued and fold their tents. It requires them to suddenly accept a contract offer they have already turned down twice. Earlier this week, local union president Andrew Cleary sent an e-mail to the CBC in Kitchener. It said he was prepared to endure the lockout until after the October elections.

The workers at Guelph Transit are angry and someone in the city should ask them why. Part of the answer will take us back to November of last year. That was when transit workers became scapegoats for an overtime bill they had no control over. Management schedules overtime and workers perform it. The relationship has been festering ever since, and this lockout does nothing to settle it down.

Public transit is an expensive service, and always will be. So is police protection, fire safety, rec centres and libraries. We’ve starved them far too long. As citizens of this green and growing city, we should demand more investment in these services, not less. We have to give them the financial and other resources they need to provide the services we need.

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