Monday, May 29, 2006


Unless you've been living under a rock, you've heard that yes, Toronto's transit workers staged an illegal strike this morning, costing everyone their morning commute.

Before I begin: Yes, illegal strike, yadda yadda. Petulant union, yadda.

But once again, we're seeing the stupid suggestion that transit workers be regulated as an emergency service, thus denying them the right to strike. We've previously seen this logic applied to teachers, and I imagine we'll eventually see it applied to Baristas and pizza delivery boys.

Why? Not because people actually couldn't live without these services - like the ambulance*. No, what bothers people so much is the idea that they might be inconvenienced for living in a society that is unwilling to pay the necessary costs of modern civilization. They're unwilling to elect politicians who honestly promise tax increases to fund proper transit spending, so transit gets cut. Then transit workers - upset at doing a pretty unappreciated job, and wary of being crapped all over - do something foolish. The final act comes when - unwilling to pay people what they're worth, and offended at the very idea of inconvenience - we demand that workers be stripped of their rights. Brilliant. Even more depressingly, I see that even alleged progressives are gravitating to this idea.

Blech. This whole phenomena could roughly be described as the "unless it affects me" crowd: I'm for workers rights, so long as I don't have to pay more for t-shirts, or be inconvenienced when management acts like the tools they always are. I'm for renewable energy, unless someone wants to put a wind turbine in my town.

If you dare to offend me in even the slightest way, this crowd says, then I'll throw any and all of my principles out the window and scream bloody murder. I'll go so far as to call the armed might of the state down on you, because you made me carpool with a stranger, you bastards.

Of course, stripping workers of their right to strike will do absolutely nothing. If your complaint is that the TTC workers are overpaid or lazy, well, congratulations! Making them emergency services is likely to do only one thing - increase their compensation. Mayor David Miller has said this repeatedly: Emergency workers have all their contract disputes settled by arbitration, which historically means that workers demands get met more quickly and fairly than if management gets to make workers strike for their demands publicly.

Of course, Mayor Miller sees the added expense of fair compensations as a bad thing, so he's opposed to making transit workers emergency personnel.

Shorter David Miller: If we paid these people what they're worth, we couldn't afford it.

So please, everyone screaming for the head of the union leaders, I dare you - make the TTC emergency workers. They'll be even better paid, and it still won't shut you up.

*I'm actually sympathetic to the idea of labelling the TTC an "essential" service, if only to recognize the reality that Toronto basically doesn't function without it. This is what everyone who laughed at Toronto missed a few years back when we had a big snowstorm that shut down the city - if the subways don't run, this city stops working. But to pursue this as a form of union-busting is repugnant.


Flocons said...

I don't know how anybody can still be sympathetic to the TTC. My only conclusion is that you must not have to deal with them on a weekly basis.

I am generally supportive of a worker's right to strike, but when it comes to the TTC, they seem to strike or threaten to strike at the drop of a hat.

I mean in today's wildcat strike, the union was unwilling to admit that it was an illegal strike, implying that it was a lockout by management.

What were the issues that forced them to strike? Were they issues serious enough to warrant breaking the law to paralyze a major city? Were there other options that could have been considered?

Hey, I'm not pointing the finger at you of course. I'm angry at the TTC... but not really. After years of this nonsense, it no longer surprises me.

The disturbing issue is this: Hostile TTC patrons are attacking drivers. For some reason, the TTC believes that staging an illegal strike will somehow solve this issue. Plexiglass barriers that separate patrons from TTC staff will somehow solve this issue. Apparently treating their patrons like human beings was not considered a feasible solution for this problem.

Lord Kitchener's Own said...

I'm glad to see your footnote recognizes the importance of the TTC to the functioning of the city. A lot of people from outside Toronto were commenting on blogs yesterday that all those lazy Torontonians should just quit whinning and walk to work. Well, of course, if you live here you know that a lot of people live 30 kilometers from work, and while some live close to work, I don't actually know anyone who could walk to work in less than two hours. And a two hour walk in 30 degree weather on a smog day is not advisable!!!

On the other side of the coin, flocons suggests that the TTC seems to "strike , or threaten to strike at the drop of a hat". Well, maybe so on the "threaten to strike", though as far as I'm concerned threatening to strike is not an issue, and the union can do that as often as they like. Having a strike vote is a bargaining tactic, and a perfectly valid one. But as for actually striking, this was the first strike in 7 years, which is a lot less than many unions. Also, both of the last two strikes lasted a grand combined total of 3 days. To me, three days on strike in 15 years (the last strike before 1999 was 1991) is hardly over-the-top, and yet people complain that the TTC is "always on strike". Really? Three days in 15 years is a huge problem?

It'll also be interesting to see the union's fleshing out of their "lock-out" argument. I believe (it wasn't made at all clear yesterday) that their argument is that the maintinence workers decided to strike (illegally, yes) and then management locked up the stations. I think they're arguing that it's not that the drivers refused to cross the picket line automatically, but that when they arrived for work they realized that the TTC had locked the doors when the maintinence workers walked out, and so since they couldn't get in to work, they decided to join their fellow union members in solidarity. Now, who knows if that's even remotely true, but I imagine we'll learn more in the next few days (reports were pretty confused and contradictory yesterday).

I'm as ticked as anyone at what went on lately, and I know why people are mad at the inconvenience, but I fail to see why people are so hostile to TTC employees. I've yet to meet any of these drivers who treat their passengers like sub-human scum (I ride the TTC every single day), although I HAVE seen "passengers" who threaten violence because they're not willing to hand over $2.75 to ride the bus. If I were a driver, I'd never confront a passenger who didn't pay. Getting spit at, beaten, or stabbed isn't worth $2.75. I don't care how badly you think TTC employees treat you, I'm pretty sure no bus driver has ever pulled a passenger off the bus and put them in the hospital with a severe beating.

The real problem is that 80% of the TTC's funding comes from fares, so fares have to keep rising to keep up with rising costs, while service improvements are hard to come by, which ticks people offf, and we take it out on the face of the TTC, the drivers and station operators. But it's not their fault that the TTC is the least subsidized transit system in the world (to give a comparison, the TTC relies on fares for 80% of their budget, while the Boston transit system only gets 20% of their budget from fares, the rest from government). In a way, action like yesterday is one of the few times we talk openly about how terrible our public transit is in the T-Dot, and that's not the employees fault.

Westacular said...

flocons touched on what confuses me about yesterday's action -- it's not remotely clear to me what the union is actually after. What is their goal, what do they want changed? That was not communicated at all (at least, not through the media), leaving one to conclude that their only purpose was to demonstrate how essential they are to the city's functioning. We knew that already. (Although, you must admit they picked one hell of a perfect day to emphasize the point.)

john said...

for the record, I take the TTC almost every day.

I'd love to know what it is that moves you to such passion, flocons. What trauma causes you to hate TTC personnel so?

Flocons said...

Believe it or not, I'm tired of ranting about the TTC. As I've said in my blog, there is nothing I can say that I haven't said before. I want to find solutions.

Here's the honest truth: I don't have a problem paying $2.75 or even $5.00 for a TTC ticket. I don't mind paying that much for a service that is reliable, courteous, convenient, and where I am treated with respect.

I mean, is that really that much to ask for? I've been to Europe and Asia and have seen some excellent examples of world-class transit in world-class cities. It doesn't have to be this way. It really can be a lot better.

The main problem is that throughout the years of management-vs-union rhetoric, the TTC has forgotten (and even villianized) the transit patrons. It's an attitude that has to stop. This suggestion of protective barriers between drivers and patrons is symbolic of a very bad customer relationship. I think the TTC really needs to implement a better customer service model, complete with employee training. (Yes, this will cost money... Yes, I would pay for it.)