Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Stupidity of a union

In March of 2008, the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU local 279, specifically) which represents city of Ottawa bus drivers (OCTranspo) was in a legal strike position. They waited until December 10th to walk off the job. December. In the winter. Just before Christmas. In the middle of a recession. Roads were clogged, businesses lost millions, and everyone across the city was affected.

Over 1000 buses that shuffled some 400,000 people daily around the city sat parked at various bus depot centres for 51 days until the threat of being ordered back to work by the federal government prompted the union to agree to binding arbitration. The union's head, André Cornellier, left the announcement press conference in a stretch limo. In the middle of a recession.

Some blame the mayor and city staff, others the unions. I don't care about the strike, per se. What I do care about is the timing. They could have walked off the job in March of 2008, or waited until the summertime. But that wouldn't have had the desired effect: it wouldn't inconvenience enough people. People who NEED public transportation don't have cars and are usually living on a small income. These people were the ones most affected by this strike. They can't afford taxis (if you could even get one in a reasonable amount of time). There are stories of people walking for hours to and from work, people unable to go to cancer treatments, people losing money because they couldn't GET to work, and people who lost their jobs altogether.

Due to maintenance concerns, it will take almost 2 months before all the buses are running on their usual schedules. More delays, more traffic headaches. In the winter. What do the drivers expect in the way of behaviour from the passengers who return to taking the buses? Everyone, including the mayor, is hoping people are nice and sweet-tempered. But already there are rumblings of reprisals: not paying to get on and telling the driver to "Fuck off" being the main one.

Bernie Gauthier, the chief executive of the Ottawa PR firm Delta Media thinks that many drivers could face irate passengers when bus service resumes.

“I think they will have a hard time coming back. Right now there doesn’t seem to be a lot of sympathy for the drivers and for their union.”

Not "..a lot of sympathy"? Maybe it had to do with going on strike. In the winter. Just before Christmas. In a recession. The drivers pretty much deserve whatever they get.