Archive for June, 2012

City Ethics Becoming An Issue In Transit Dispute

I am finding that I am getting increasingly disturbed by the way things have progressed over the last few days, surrounding the dispute between the City and Codiac Transpo.

I am concerned to start with over the wording used when the City originally decided to lock out Codiac Transpo without notice. The wording was along the lines of indicating that there was no notice given  because of essentially safety and security concerns. While this is standard operating procedure in disputes, especially those where there is high levels of animosity and high likelihood of damage, the choice of wording gives the impression that the City did not feel that the ATU as a whole would operate in a respectable manner. It is not impossible that there are one or two amongst those laid off who could have harbored sufficiently ill feelings for this to be the case, however it is unlikely that any form of widespread violence or vandalism would have occurred. Most specifically while it is normal for employers to lock out employees with no notice, it is usually handled with far better tact then was shown with the statements by the city’s spokesperson. It would have been far better to have simply indicated that insurance and/or lawyers insisted on it for safety reason’s even though all parties understood that adverse events were unlikely. In this matter in all honesty the City and it’s spokesperson realistically owe the union an apology for the way it was handled.

Another thing that concerns me greatly is again an issue that is common, and totally legal, however is also extremely unfair and completely unethical.

This regards the removal of benefits from those who have been laid off. There are some amongst the staff or amongst the covered family members who are extremely ill and who require medications covered by these benefits. This type of action can cause extreme suffering, especially as those with preexisting conditions often can not get coverage, so a new job with benefits (that often do not kick in for between 3 months to a year) will not cut it. There is also the issue regarding the fact that if this coverage is terminated will those who are already ill, or who become ill while the lockout is ongoing, still be eligible to be covered once the contract dispute is resolved. While I have no final figures on how many are going to be immediately affected and how many will be affected over the long-term if the dispute runs for an extended period, what I can say is that to have any individual subjected to this type of issue simply due to a contract dispute is disgusting in the max and is almost guaranteed to damage the city’s credibility unless it is corrected quickly.

It should also be noted that to most people, even during a dispute, very few people would think to expect an interruption of employee benefits. The fact that the city chose to do so, even if it is 100% legal is extremely disturbing and shows the extreme tactics they are choosing to use in an attempt to break the union’s resolve.

There are differing positions on the Codiac Transpo lockout and that is to be expected however from an outsider’s perspective I seriously believe that the City of Moncton blew it with this decision. There are numerous reasons why I believe this and I will try to explain some of them here.

 

  1. Public opinion: While public opinion on many parts of this has supported the city up till this point, in general public opinion generally goes against the group who pulls the trigger on a strike/lockout in any action.
  2.  Bargaining Position: The stronger bargaining position always goes to the person who has the least to lose.  By pulling the trigger on a lockout the city has instantly ceded the stronger bargaining position to the ATU
  3. Money Pressure:  When a union goes on strike, the union gives strike pay to its workers, this is usually a small amount and by no means sufficient to meet day-to-day expenses. When the union is locked out, workers are eligible for unemployment which will pay sufficiently more than strike pay. This reduces the urgency on the union to accept a reduction.
  4. Long Term Staffing Concerns:  This is a big issue and due to recent changes to EI could actually effect the strike even more severely.  As the strike in Halifax and the regional bus strike has shown as job action drags on people look for other jobs. This means the city could be faced with a rush to hire new staff after the lockout ends. Changes to EI forcing people to accept lower paying jobs based on length of time unemployed could actually increase staff attrition. This will likely long-term affect the city more than the Union as the staff that lasts the longest will be the strongest of the union members.
  5. Labour Board Case: The issue surrounding the “original deal” is to be heard by the labour board in July. By not waiting till after the labour board case to do a lock out suggests the city is trying to put pressure on the union and also suggests  that perhaps there is a belief amongst the city that they may not win at the labour board. This actually gives this advantage to the Union again.
  6.  Timing: This has a couple of aspects :
    1/ Election. This action being done so soon AFTER an election. Over time people will question why this was not done before the election and give people and opportunity to voice their opinion on it. It may not have changed the overall results but it would have affected vote counts without a doubt.
    2/ Overnight on a weeknight: Instead of doing this after the last bus on a Saturday night to allow the vast majority of bus passengers 24 hours. This was done in a method that did not allow everyone sufficient time to make alternate plans. It is highly likely as well that many people would have gone to the bus stop this AM without even being aware that there was a work stoppage.  Both of these aspects will also damage the city’s position long term.


No matter how I look at this to me long-term the city has now seriously screwed up and has put themselves in a seriously reduced bargaining position. This is in my mind a huge mistake on the part of the city and one that will likely come back to bite them in the long-term.

The only thing at this point that could swing any advantage to the city is if the labour board ruled in favour of the city and in my mind that is unlikely at this point and my suspicion is that the city is well aware of that.

My view on how this plays out is that short term the bus drivers will be the target but as time passes I seriously suspect that this will reverse and the city will be the one to bear the brunt of the anger of those who rely on transit.