OC Transpo strike looming

2008-12-09

in Daily updates, Ottawa, Rants

At the very point where Ottawa’s winter is unleashing its cold fury upon we hapless inhabitants (-11°C and snowing heavily), the bus system is about to be shut down by a strike.

In response, I humbly propose that all senior people involved in the negotiations between the city and the union have their cars impounded for the duration of the strike. If the city and union representatives had to walk through the freezing landscape to the negotiating table, they might be a bit quicker to resolve the outstanding issues they have about the allocation of sick days and their scheduling arrangements.

[Update: 5 January 2009] On Thursday, the union will be voting on an offer from the city. If it is accepted, buses should start rolling five or six days later, once mechanics have serviced them.

[Update: 8 January 2009] The union rejected the offer. The strike will continue for some unknown span of time.

[Update: 28 January 2009] On the 50th day of the strike, the Canada Industrial Relations Board has ruled that transit is not an ‘essential service.’ Both the city and the union argued in favour of such a ruling.

[Update: 29 January 2009] Threatened with back-to-work legislation, the city and union have reached a deal, ending the strike. Some bus service should resume as of Monday.

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{ 241 comments… read them below or add one }

Litty December 9, 2008 at 3:35 pm

The timing with the bad weather seems too neat for this strike to be a coincidence.

The drivers are hoping to force a settlement by literally freezing OC Transpo’s passengers.

Milan December 9, 2008 at 4:14 pm

The utilitarian in me is always offended by public sector strikes, since they allow unions to advance their interests by harming the public at large, rather than their employers specifically.

If Nike workers goes on strike, Adidas does a bit better and nobody in society at large really suffers. When teachers, nurses, and bus drivers go on strike, they effectively hold society for ransom.

Tristan December 9, 2008 at 10:10 pm

“they allow unions to advance their interests by harming the public at large, rather than their employers specifically.”

You can’t say that it is the union harms the public at large without already making an ethical judgment that they are somehow “at fault” in the dispute. Otherwise you have to remain neutral with respect to the union/the employer on the question of “who is causing the strike”.

Tristan December 9, 2008 at 10:14 pm

“When teachers, nurses, and bus drivers go on strike, they effectively hold society for ransom.”

This is absurd. They hold the employer at ransom – and the employer has obligations to certain interested parties. The fact that the parties the employer has obligations against happen to be the voting base is a factor which distorts the issue – it’s like saying Nike is holding society for ransom because the nike factory strikes and it happens to be in the same electoral district where every single person wears Nikes – the customers will pressure the state to clawback the workers rights and settle the dispute quickly. These are just instances of the public siding with the employer.

But, should the public side with the employer? What do people in general have in common with employers? Everyone I know has a lot more in common with employees than employers, so why people support the employer in disagreements like this just seems to me totally illogical.

Sarah December 10, 2008 at 12:25 am

I’m with Tristan on this one.
Bear in mind that for somebody to legally strike they must be without a contract, i.e. because they are no longer bound by a job contract so they have no obligation to provide the service to the employer. Their employer might have an obligation to provide the service to the public because that contract doesn’t have an expiration date, but if they cared more about the public interest then they wouldn’t let it reach the point of strike action. Workers don’t want to strike not least ‘cos it involves losing a lot of wages; striking is what you do when the employer isn’t prepared to compromise on proposals that really fucking stink.

Tristan December 10, 2008 at 1:42 am

You do know that the employees, if they want strike pay, do have to be outside all day on the picket lines – full time employees in CUPE unions need to walk the lines 40 hours a week for their 200$ a week strike pay.

Milan December 10, 2008 at 11:30 am
Milan December 10, 2008 at 11:33 am

But, should the public side with the employer? What do people in general have in common with employers? Everyone I know has a lot more in common with employees than employers, so why people support the employer in disagreements like this just seems to me totally illogical.

The employer here is effectively the government, which makes for a special case. The government has a big effect on everyone, and everyone wants it to operate smoothly and effectively.

It is almost always logical to side with the government in the event of public sector strikes, precisely because the people who suffer most are the public at large.

There may be cases where the grievance of the workers is sufficient to justify the disruption, but I think the onus is definitely on them to prove that.

Anon December 10, 2008 at 12:57 pm

New drivers start at 60K, the salary list in Ontario actually lists at least two guys at the 105K mark.

That’s more than universities grads usually get, more than teachers, more than cops.

And they’re being offered a 7% raise.

They say it’s about respect not money, and then they’re extorting the city when the weather turns bad and exams are about to begin, actively blocking intersections with picket lines. You want respect? Try acting in a respectable way.

Fuck them.

Declare it an essential service so the unions are happy, and then lay every motherfucking one of them off for some recent immigrant who will probably speak better English, be nicer people, and do better work for a much more reasonable wage.

Tristan December 10, 2008 at 4:59 pm

“everyone wants it to operate smoothly and effectively.”

Show me one person who would take for one instance the smooth operation of government over justice and I will show you a man who hates liberty.

Anon’s comments fail to warrant a response – name calling and a tangential reference to the demands which the strike are over do not constitute an analysis.

Tristan December 10, 2008 at 5:10 pm

“There may be cases where the grievance of the workers is sufficient to justify the disruption, but I think the onus is definitely on them to prove that.”

Again, this kind of analysis is seriously mistaken. It isn’t the union which causes the strike, but the disagreement between the union and the employer. You can no more say that the union causes the strike than the employer, unless you already judge the unions demands to be wrong. And its wrong to think that somehow the importance of the demands needs to be balanced against the cost to society of the strike – that’s the logic that in this case needs to be used by the employer (although, only because this is a distinctive case where the employer is the state). The representatives of the employees would be acting in bad faith if they acted on behalf of the common good – their task is to represent their members, not everyone. If they think it is the best interest of their members to go on strike, they have to go on strike.

Basically, you seem to think its as if the union were the government, and they should do a cost-benefit analysis of the effects of the strike before going on strike. But it’s the other way around – the government is the government, and they should do a cost benefit analysis of the demands before they force the union to choose between abandoning the demands or going on strike.

Tristan December 10, 2008 at 5:20 pm

If you think about what it means, structurally, that a public sector union actually goes on strike, it seems to me to be this: that the employer thinks that the public good is better served by not giving in to the unions demands, even if that means a serious disruption to a public service, than it is by making sure that service continues uninterrupted.

In the case of the York strike, the administration is quite literally saying with its actions that it is better to deprive all undergraduates of much of their fall term, which they paid for, than it is to give contract faculty any kind of meaningful job security.

In the case of this transit strike, the city is saying that they would prefer people to go without public transit than give the employees whatever they are asking for.

Mike Kushnir December 10, 2008 at 7:05 pm

i can understand milan’s standpoint in terms of utility and inconvenience to the public, but i also agree – at least philosophically – with tristan’s argument. the public, through their elected representatives, is the employer, and thus, the public is free to demand their representatives to sweeten a settlement deal – or at least move towards binding arbitration by an impartial negotiator.

take a look at the 2001 transit strike in vancouver – which lasted for 4 months. in vancouver, where transit’s mode share much higher than the is the people punished the incumbent NPA in the next year’s election, for being insensitive towards transit users and not taking action in ending the strike, in particular when the union was nearly begging to settle.

furthermore, in direction to anon, you have evidently never considered others who lose a job and subsequently found themselves completely unskilled for any other kind of work.

let’s not forget that union workers work hard too. also, let’s not forget that – at the end of the day – union workers are human beings too, with taxes and mortgages to pay and families to feed. egad, could they be just like you and me?

union labour can be hard to work with, sure. but they serve a purpose: to protect the rights of people who would otherwise be – for the most part – the first struck by economic forces much bigger than any person.

Mike Kushnir December 10, 2008 at 7:08 pm

furthermore, i have a strong distaste for governments imposing contracts on unions. however, if the city (or regional district; i’m not sure in the ottawa case) does not come up with a solution within a week or two, the province would be wise to order the union back to work for 30 days and force new negotiations.

Tristan December 10, 2008 at 9:08 pm

Mike,

You can’t both support the union’s right to strike and the province’s right to legislate them back to work. The only reason the employer has to give into union demands is the threat of a long strike – to make it seem that the province will legislate them back to work is to guarentee that the employer will not come to the table.

Again, there is a standard mis-reading of collective bargaining which interprets both sides making proposals on some kind of fair plane and there can be a kind of debate and mutual agreement, this is just nonsense. The best settlement for either side is the one which hurts the other one, and the means for settling the dispute is force.

Tristan December 10, 2008 at 10:13 pm

I disagree with Mike’s emotive appeal to Anon. Union workers are free citizens, and like any other, they have the right to join associations and act in non-illegal ways as a group if they choose to. Until a group’s leadership begins inciting an association to commit crimes, it cannot be a crime to commit a legal act for the reason that you were requested by them.

Therefore, the notion of an illegal strike is basically already nonsense, because it involves making an action illegal because of its purpose or the reason behind it, when the action itself was not illegal and the the reason behind it was decision made democratically between a group of free individuals. In other words, the state can decide that a decision made by a group of freely associated individuals is illegal even if that decision is to request members to commit some action which is not itself illegal.

But of course, we don’t live in a free country.

NONAME December 11, 2008 at 1:29 am

GO FUCK YOURSELF, OC TRANSPO DRIVERS!!
YOU ARE ALL RUBBISH!! AGAIN, RUBBISH!!
YOU SELFISH RUBBISH!!

HOPE YOU ALL GET AN ACCIDENT AND DIE!!

Mike Kushnir December 11, 2008 at 2:10 am

no no – it’s not doublespeak what i’m suggesting.

i was saying that, in order to balance the needs of both the union and society at large, a cooling-off period should be considered, hopefully in accordance with negotiation. you might say that it infringes on the right of the union to strike, but then we get into a debate over whose rights trump whose, and that’s a debate i just can’t get into right now.

another problem with public sector strikes that has not been covered here is that the unions are often in a very bad position – perhaps always. translink was saving money when the CAW went on strike in 2001 because of the huge public subsidies that they received. thus, voilà, an active disincentive to settle.

however, perhaps that is a different case. vancouver’s drivers were off the job for four months; ottawa has been off the job for just a day so far.

anyway, when tristan says that “force” through industrial action is necessary, then why is it that over 95% of collective agreements (in bc?) are ratified without striking? (i’m sorry, i read that someplace a while back and i can’t remember where, so that may or may not be inaccurate.)

basically, tristan, i think that i didn’t make a clear enough distinction between legislating a “cooling-off period” and an imposed contract. i am not in favour of the latter, but the former can have benefit when the greater good is at stake.

Tristan December 11, 2008 at 2:54 am

Taking away the right of a union to strike takes away any leverage they have to get the employer to agree with their demands. Do you think the employer agrees with demands because they are well argued? No, collective bargaining is about power. The only point of organizing is that together, people have more bargaining power than as individuals.

You can fool people with doublespeak maybe once, because the governments actions in every public sector strike set precedents for future strikes, i.e., if they are legislated back to work one time, the employer will just assume that’s happening next time round and will not seriously bargain with the union. Interfering with the collective bargaining process (which is part of the free market, because to say otherwise would be to put a restriction on peoples right to free association in contract formation) produces distorted results. And I am prepared to go right to the end – the right amount to pay bus drivers is the amount just below it would be cheaper to replace them with other bus drivers. Of course, you can’t replace just one at a time, you have to replace all of them. That’s the opportunity cost of giving into the unions demands, and therefore that should be paid – that’s the only description I can give in neoclassical framework of what the pseudo natural price of labour is (a structural component of oppertunity costing)

If the employer knows the employees will be legislated back to work, then he has no reason to settle or to give into any demands.

You are deluding yourself if you think any of those 95% of agreements would have been agreed to if employees didn’t have the right to strike – in other words if the threat of a strike was not present.

You need to differentiate between the threat of a strike and the actuality of a strike. The best way for a strike to end quickly is for it to threaten to be very long – this is a huge incentive for both sides to get to the table. If it appears that the strike is just about over, neither side has hardly any incentive to move. It’s only when catastrophe is at stake that there is movement on demands, from either side.

Tristan December 11, 2008 at 3:04 am

I just want to repeat, this is really absurd logic:

“when tristan says that “force” through industrial action is necessary, then why is it that over 95% of collective agreements (in bc?) are ratified without striking?”

I repeat, zero of these agreements would have been signed with the content they had if the threat of strike was taken away. Every single union worker would make less.

The right to strike means the right to disrupt the services the employer provides, whether that be ship the steel he produces to his customers (because the employees are on strike and he can’t make steel), or carry customers on buses.

It is absolutely the case that the economic relationship that you have with the bus company is between you and the employer, not you and the driver. You don’t pay the driver – you pay the employer. If anyone has an obligation to provide the service, it’s the employer, not the driver. The driver’s responsibility is to the employer, and he can strike because his contract has expired.

To blame the drivers for the strike is exactly as absurd as blaming service reductions due to tire shortages on the tire manufacturer who was late supplying the bus company with tires. It is the companies responsibility to make sure it gets tires on time, so that they don’t have to reduce service because the tires are dangorous. Labour is just like any other input – you don’t blame the imput for the service disruption it causes, you blame the employer for not foreseeing the problem and circumventing it.

In certain cases, you do blame the input – like we blame increased cost of travel on increased cost of fuel. However, we do that only when we have presummed that the firm could not in any way have avoided this increased cost – imagine if there were two ways of getting fuel, one expensive and one cheap. The firm couldn’t say “Oh, sorry about the fuel surcharge, I deal with the expensive fuel dealer” – people would just ask why they don’t use the cheap one?

It’s exactly the same for labour. If the firm could have settled with the union before the strike on its existing demands, then what is its justification for leaving all its customers out in the cold? If it wasn’t a monopoly, it wouldn’t be able to do this. If there were competing bus companies, employers would fear for not settling with their unions because a strike would mean a loss of rideshare compared with the other companies.

Tristan December 11, 2008 at 3:06 am

Milan, I thought you approved these comments yourself? If so, why did you approve the all caps one above, I don’t see what it does other than characterize opposition to the strike violent and unreasoned? If not, why do they take so long to appear?

Mike Kushnir December 11, 2008 at 6:03 am

i think they’re pre-approved, pending a confirmation.

Milan December 11, 2008 at 10:43 am

Milan, I thought you approved these comments yourself?

The comments go through two different comment filters, which are automatic. Sometimes, I dig through the rejected comments and recover genuine ones. Sometimes, I have to manually delete spam comments. Generally, I only remove comments that are full of unwanted links.

Delays in the appearance of comments are most likely caused by the caching system (wp-cache). Given the number of MySQL database calls associated with WordPress, the only way to get a site on cheap hosting to load tolerably quickly is to use caching. When a cached page is updated, you sometimes need to hit shift and the reload button for changes to appear.

. December 11, 2008 at 11:05 am

No end in sight for Ottawa transit strike
Patrick Dare, Ottawa Citizen
Published: Thursday, December 11, 2008

OTTAWA – The second day of Ottawa’s transit strike brought with it frigid temperatures, slow commutes and no hope of an early end to the labour dispute.

Labour negotiations had not progressed as of Thursday morning and an attempt Wednesday by several councillors to have the federal government declare public transit an essential service died quickly in council chambers.

Magictofu December 11, 2008 at 11:17 am

The problem with public sector strikes is that they operate in situations of monopolies. In Ottawa, many people have no other options than to use OC Transpo for their transportation needs. I believe this matters more than the fact that ultimately OC Transpo is semi-governmental in nature. Lockouts and strikes should be regulated in such monopolistic situations because they do take the population hostage. It should be noted here that I also mention lockouts here… it does not matter whether the decision to stop the delivery of service was taken by the employer or the workers here.

In these monopolistic situations, there is very little pressure, other than public pressure, for the negotiations to be successful. The firm/agency won’t close after loosing all their clients after a strike/lockout. At the end, even the cost of these disruptions on would fall to the tax paying population and the users, not the employer or workers. The disruptions however will have major impacts, usually much larger than the real cost of management accepting a more generous deal with workers, hence public officials are under great pressure to accept what they would otherwise perceive as a sub-optimal deal.

If there was a number of bus companies operating in the city that actually competed against each other, a strike would cause inconvenience but it would not cause the same amount of suffering (possibly including death if one takes into account increased number of accidents and limits to the provision of health care due to transportation problems). The position of public sector workers would certainly not be as strong in such environment, and I doubt salaries and working conditions would be as high as it is right now. From a workers point of view, we can deplore this very fact. From a wider social justice point of view however I think there are a number of positive effects to consider as the effect of a strike or lockout would be essentially felt by the employer and the workers, leaving the larger public generally out of the equation. It would also probably allow for a greater offering of services, lower fares and potentially increased ridership.

All that is fictional of course. I have only seen such competitive markets in public transit in developing countries where other factors like public safety were not necessarily taken into account. It is not impossible to develop such a system in developed countries but I doubt there is any appetite for that here outside of those rare strike episodes. These systems would probably need complex regulations and enforcement to avoid falling for lower standards.

I do believe strongly that minimal regulations should be put in place to minimize adverse effects on the wider public when negotiations fail in a monopolistic public sector environment like public transit. In some cities, major bus lines are kept running during strikes and less disruptive means are used both to obtain public support and put pressure on the negotiations. In my opinion, striking should be a right in sectors of the economy where competition is strong but it should be limited in those sectors where no competition exists.

Anonymous December 11, 2008 at 11:23 am

I agree that government employees should have a very limited right to strike.

Otherwise, their unions have inappropriate power over the general public, and can win unfair concessions.

Tristan December 11, 2008 at 11:54 am

A limited right to strike is no right to strike at all, the only reason a strike creates leverage is the threat it has to go on. What a month from now is to now in a strike is what a strike is to a strike might occur in one month, as a tool of leverage in negotiations.

” The position of public sector workers would certainly not be as strong in such environment, and I doubt salaries and working conditions would be as high as it is right now.”

This seems wrong, everyone assumes that the union gets the extra power from a monopoly strike. But really, every single one of the arguments which show that in a monopoly strike there is less incentive to settle apply equally to the employer.

I can’t think of any reason why the employer wouldn’t be forced to be more concessionary to employee demands in a situation where he could lose market share in a strike. Remember, the employees loosing their jobs in this situation is not as bad – because they could potentially work for one of the other firms with increased market share, now needing more drivers.

Again, the idea that a strike is “the union holding the employer hostage” is preetty unreflected, and yet people seem willing to take it on faith.

By the way, in Orleon, France, there are multiple bus companies all run privately. It’s not the greatest system ever, but I can think of pretty obvious ways a PPP could integrate multiple bus companies into a single bus system. Of course, this would probably have to be formed from scratch, since employees can strike to defend their closed shop.

Magictofu December 11, 2008 at 12:15 pm

Tristan, I think the problem is not “the union holding the employer hostage” but having both the employer and workers holding the public hostage of their dispute.

This would not matter as much if there was available alternatives but since OC Transpo is in a situation of quasi-monopoly in Ottawa for public transit, it matters greatly, particulalry for the more vulnerable people in the city.

Sasha December 11, 2008 at 12:23 pm

A limited right to strike is indeed no right at all. May it also be noted that the reason BC has been relatively strike free as of late is because the government has imposed contracts, hence why you have hospital workers making barely above minimum wage and teachers who haven’t seen an actual negotiated contact for their whole careers. I’ll take schools as my example, because they’re what I know. As a teacher, I did not undertake the responsibility for providing public education in BC, that’s what we have the ministry and school boards for. Instead, I sought public sector employment from the agency that does so. Since that agency is publicly run, they do owe the public a service, and thus should be damn sure that they are able to keep on the staff needed to do so.

Milan, you said it’s in the interest of people to side with the government and I have to disagree. If, for example, I were a parent with a child in a BC school, I’d be very concerned with teachers’ working conditions because they’d also be my children’s learning conditions. The same principle applies in hospitals, transportation, and just about every other public sector I can think of.

Sarah December 11, 2008 at 12:52 pm

Some public sector workers do lack the right to strike – notably prison guards, the police and GCHQ (the computer intelligence guys) in the UK, but there needs to be a very substantial public risk associated with the strikes for the right to be removed. This has been an issue of grievance for them for years & the usual argument is that precisely because they lack the right to strike, the government needs to give them generous settlements (i.e. at least as good wage increases as other people in the public sector) & this has generally happened.
The issue with declaring non-emergency workers like TAs or bus drivers as ’emergency’ for the sake of removing their right to strike is very different – that is motivated not by fear of serious security risks, but by the desire to impose a settlement that benefits the employer and harms the interests of employees. Sasha is quite right to say that public sector workers are often bargaining over questions of serving the public better in the context of governments that are trying to make short-term savings by acts like failing to maintain infrastructure, or closing nursing homes & mental hospitals, or just having insufficient numbers of qualified staff. The assumption that governments act in the public good is astonishingly naive – Milan, you know far better than that.

R.K. December 11, 2008 at 1:13 pm

It is interesting that everyone is discussing this as an abstract issue about public sector unions in general, rather than looking at the specific situation.

What are the precise issues the union is on strike over? Are their specific demands reasonable or excessive? Is the difference between the deal they had before and the one they want sufficient to justify the disruption associated with the strike?

Tristan December 11, 2008 at 1:22 pm

“having both the employer and workers holding the public hostage of their dispute. ”

Think about what it means to hold someone hostage. To hold someone hostage there needs to be someone willing to pay a ransom. If you say both the employer and the employee is holding the public hostage, who are they holding them from? Who are they demanding money from? It seems the notion of “hostage” is being used in an unreflected manner.

R.K.:

The reason why we discuss the general rather than the particular is that what it means to take the right to strike seriously is to not say “Oh yes, in general the right to strike, but not in this particular circumstance”. The burden is on the person wanting to make the exception, not the other way around.

Milan December 11, 2008 at 1:23 pm

A memo from the OC Transpo management to the union is available online. It describes the city’s offer on sick leave, scheduling, and a $2000 bonus.

The ATU Local 279 union has a webpage. It doesn’t seem to include any specific information on the strike.

Tristan December 11, 2008 at 1:24 pm

“Is the difference between the deal they had before and the one they want sufficient to justify the disruption associated with the strike?”

I’ve already explained why this kind of logic makes no sense. It’s not the bus drivers that the public has an economic relationship with, its the bus company. You have to ask, are the demands so egregious that the employer serves the public good better by having the union go on strike rather than just meeting them.

The strike is caused by two parties, however, as a bus rider only the employer has obligations towards you. The employee has no obligations towards you, only towards the employer, and they can strike because their contract has run out.

Milan December 11, 2008 at 1:25 pm
Magictofu December 11, 2008 at 1:51 pm

I do not think that the absolute right to strike (or declare a lockout) is a very good ethical standpoint to start a discussion on the OC Transpo strike.

First, declaring that the right to strike is an absolute, particularly in such circumstances, strikes me as ideologicaly driven more than anything else.

There are many ways one could evaluate the situation:

1) From a social justice perspective, it is unfair to let the larger population bear the burden caused by a disruption in public transit. It is particulalry unfair for the most vulnerable people in the city who can only rely on this service for their transportation needs. Add to this the health and environmental problems generated by the disruption…

2) From a utilitarian point of view, the benefits that could be gained through such strike are minimal compared to the costs that the disruption generate to the larger population. Because it would be hard to internalize the effect of the disruption so that both workers and employers bear the cost of the disruption, limiting the right to strike (or lockout, I insist to add) seems like the only option to avoid a very “sub-optimal” scenario.

3) Intrinsic value studies are plagued with problems (mostly because intrinsic values are hard to compare to each other) but I’ll admit that there is a value in protecting the right to strike. I don’t believe that this right should be an absolute but it has a value. The problem here is that there is also value in protecting public goods like public transit and in alleviating unecessary suffering for those who depend on it. How do we value the protection of the right to strike (I don’t know anyone who argue for protecting the right to lockout but I’ll include it here too) against the value of all things related to a reliable public transit system.

Magictofu December 11, 2008 at 1:53 pm

“Think about what it means to hold someone hostage. To hold someone hostage there needs to be someone willing to pay a ransom. If you say both the employer and the employee is holding the public hostage, who are they holding them from? Who are they demanding money from? It seems the notion of “hostage” is being used in an unreflected manner.”

Perhaps the word hostage is not appropriate. Is victimization better?

. December 11, 2008 at 1:58 pm

Push to call transit ‘essential’ fails; Ottawa bus strike continues
Last Updated: Wednesday, December 10, 2008

“Andre Cornellier, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union local that represents the striking workers, said Wednesday that the main bargaining issue is a move by the city to take away senior drivers’ right to choose their own shifts. The city says it is trying to stop scheduling practices that rack up unnecessary overtime costs.

Cornellier said the union isn’t willing to resume talks with the city until the city backs down on that issue.”

Milan December 11, 2008 at 1:59 pm

The employee has no obligations towards you, only towards the employer, and they can strike because their contract has run out.

In the case of public sector unions, I disagree. I think the union members do have moral obligations towards citizens/taxpayers in general. As such, the level of disruption to the public at large is a relevant consideration when it comes to deciding if the strike is morally justifiable.

When you choose to work in a job where you are serving the public, largely at public expense, you necessarily take on some obligation in relation to the public. If you want to be in a position where you only need to consider your own interests when deciding how to act, you should not decide to be a government employee.

Magictofu December 11, 2008 at 2:23 pm

“When you choose to work in a job where you are serving the public, largely at public expense, you necessarily take on some obligation in relation to the public. If you want to be in a position where you only need to consider your own interests when deciding how to act, you should not decide to be a government employee.”

I think such moral obligations applies to anyone, not only government employees. Some private sector workers are in positions that are similar to OC Transpo drivers, mostly those working for large monopolistic industries; workers at Bell Canada, particularly before telecom deregulation, for instance.

. December 11, 2008 at 2:59 pm

The Public Transit in Ottawa portal will initially be an exploration of news, notes, and comments about Ottawa’s public transit system. Hopefully, over time, it will help Ottawans become engaged and involved in the decision-making process municipally.

MTCicero December 11, 2008 at 5:59 pm

Keep this up and the PEOPLE WHO PAY YOUR CHEQUES will start their own war cry…PRIVATIZE OC TRANSPO!!!! England has privatized their train system and the sky didnt fall. I dont agree with privatizing everything and often support the labour movement, but this is insane! The union is an out of touch aristocracy who have a disgusting sense of entitlement. I bet we could put off the city tax hike if we privatized OC Transpo and paid these yahoos 15-20$/hr instead of 25-30. Its been done. We can do it too. All that needs to happen is for the public to demand it. Keep it up guys and the public will.

. December 11, 2008 at 6:02 pm
. December 11, 2008 at 6:05 pm

Transit strike saves $3M a week: OC Transpo
Last Updated: Thursday, December 11, 2008
CBC News

Union could picket university shuttles

The union said it won’t rule out picketing shuttles hired by local universities to help their students get to their exams during the city’s transit strike.

“Most of the bus companies would never ever do anything that would be scabbing our members,” Graham said Wednesday afternoon. “We’ll have to deal with it if it does occur. We have to do the things that we legally can do. And we will do it.”

Both the University of Ottawa and Carleton University are running shuttles from various locations throughout the city to get students to their campuses, where exams are taking place as scheduled.”

niceocdriver December 11, 2008 at 6:06 pm

The wages aren’t the issue, this is about scheduling, contracting out, and sick days. If they offered the same wage package, but left the booking process alone, amended the contracting out a bit, and made the sick days more in line with what office staff at OC get (they get 12 days/yr, we get 6, and they are allowed to carry unused days forward or get them paid out, we are not), then the contract would be a done deal!”

Tristan December 11, 2008 at 7:14 pm

“Perhaps the word hostage is not appropriate. Is victimization better?”

Maybe, but you can’t get the same mileage out of this notion – the way “taking the public hostage” is meant is the idea that somehow “by taking the public hostage”, they will get more money. But it’s actually the employer who is holding the public “hostage”, in the sense that it any time he can stop the labour dispute, and he is the one with obligations towards the public.

Tristan December 11, 2008 at 7:16 pm

“I think the union members do have moral obligations towards citizens/taxpayers in general.”

This is just a mistake. The kind of obligations employees have are contractual, economic obligations, not moral obligations. Labour is just another input for capital, no different from tires or fuel. Does fuel have a moral obligation towards taxpayers?

. December 11, 2008 at 7:16 pm

Strike Out
December 11, 2008 by XUP

“Ottawa is in the throes of a transit strike. It’s very annoying. For some people it’s downright devastating…

I’m obligated to be part of a union in my workplace. I pay monthly union dues. Is it too much to expect them to negotiate a contract once every 3 or 4 years without hauling me out on the street? Our union calls a strike almost every time contracts need to be re-negotiated. Nobody asks us if we want a strike. Nobody asks us if we’re willing to accept the offer put on the table by our employer. We strike for a while, get legislated back to work and nothing changes. And the union has the balls to tell us we’d better show up on the picket lines “or else”.

And they’re pretty ugly about it. Threats are made. Scrawled notes are left on our desks. Phone calls are made to our homes. Thuggish union types stop you in the hall and tell you what will happen to you if you don’t picket – everything from facing a law suit, to having our homes picketed to veiled, “you better hope we don’t see you out walking on your own some night” physical threats.”

Milan December 11, 2008 at 7:21 pm

Labour is just another input for capital, no different from tires or fuel. Does fuel have a moral obligation towards taxpayers?

The relevant perspective here is that the drivers are individuals who are effectively part of government. We have all kinds of special moral expectations when it comes to government employees, and one consequence of working for the government is the need to accept a constrained ability to behave as a purely self-interested agent.

Labour as a factor of production is a useful lens for understanding some things. I don’t see much relevance for it here.

In short: labour as an abstract concept has no duties; drivers, by contrast, are people who need to make ethical decisions based on the circumstances in which the find themselves.

Magictofu,

Your point about monopolies is a good one. It is quite possible that employees of entities that (a) are monopolies and (b) provide important services also have a weaker moral claim to being able to behave exclusively in their self-interest.

Milan December 11, 2008 at 7:32 pm

The union said it won’t rule out picketing shuttles hired by local universities to help their students get to their exams during the city’s transit strike.

I think this would be highly inappropriate.

Just as OC Transpo doesn’t have the right to be the only provider of bus services, its employees have no right to mess with other companies seeking to do the same thing. Doing so smacks of gangsterism, saying: “Nobody but us sells on this corner.”

Grievances between union members and their managers have no legitimate bearing upon the operation of other businesses. Just as it would be inappropriate (and contrary to maximizing utility) for one company to muscle out competition and form a monopoly, it is inappropriate for union members to try to block people from using alternatives to their services.

The basic situation with the union is that they are exercising a power over the public at large. As a society, we have deemed this legitimate in some circumstances, because it helps to counterbalance the excessive power employers might otherwise have over their employees. Letting them shut down other services would give them too much bargaining power, in terms of what they could impose on both their employers and society at large.

Sarah December 11, 2008 at 9:44 pm

Well, Milan, I hope that you have the strength of your convictions if your employer ever demands that you completely change your working hours, or contracts out half the work to unqualified people, or slashes pensions, or demands wage cuts. After all your logic suggests that acceding to sudden and apparently non-negotiable demands from the employer (whatever the destructive consequences for current employees) is the price one pays for working in the public sector. Funny, I thought the lower pay was the price of a public sector job, but apparently the complete removal of the right to free collective bargaining and associated strike action accompanies it. It strikes me as more than a little hypocritical to accept the benefits of unionised free collective bargaining oneself but seek to deny those same benefits to other public employees.

Milan December 11, 2008 at 11:05 pm

Sarah,

To begin with, I explicitly did not say that public servants should never strike. I said that they ought to consider the impacts on society at large that would occur if they chose to do so. That position is in no way inconsistent with union membership. One very important factor is the time-sensitivity of the work you do. That is part of why it is a lot more acceptable for random government researchers to strike than it is for those running hospitals, prisons, the electrical grid, etc, to do so.

Secondly, my membership in a union is involuntary, and probably not something I would choose if I had another option. I don’t accept automatically that the terms of my employment are better than they would be in the absence of public-sector unions.

The level of pay in any particular job doesn’t obviate the need to act morally in relation to other people.

Milan December 11, 2008 at 11:11 pm

Another way of phrasing the question is this: does somebody who does a particular job and has the ability to seriously disrupt public life deserve more money and benefits than someone who does the same work but lacks that capability?

The two situations don’t seem morally different in a way that justifies more generous treatment of the former group.

Tristan December 11, 2008 at 11:29 pm

“Another way of phrasing the question is this: does somebody who does a particular job and has the ability to seriously disrupt public life deserve more money and benefits than someone who does the same work but lacks that capability?”

People have a right to their liberty, and this includes the right to freely associate with others and bargain for better working conditions. This includes what it includes. Of course it means people in industries which are more valuable to society can bargain for more – that’s just because they are more valuable to society. Why should people be disallowed from using the surplus value their produce as leverage for better working conditions?

Tristan December 11, 2008 at 11:30 pm

“I said that they ought to consider the impacts on society at large that would occur if they chose to do so”

I think this position is totally indefensible. To defend it, you need to show that people have duties not only to their employers but to the customers of their employers.

Tristan December 11, 2008 at 11:34 pm

“The relevant perspective here is that the drivers are individuals who are effectively part of government. ”

That’s rediculous. People who are employed by the government are not part of the government unless they participate in governing, i.e. by having some sort of decision making capacity. Bus drivers are not part of the government any more than the cleaning staff at Environment Canada is.

The way you are describing the grouping of class interests, you might remember, is exactly the way it was described in pre WW2 Itality – the interests of all people who worked in steelworking were understood to have the same set of interests, and were understood as a class. This is the origin of the word for fascism – a fascist originally meant something like a piece of straw which represented an entire industry, and all bound together in a bale made up of the state.

Milan December 11, 2008 at 11:34 pm

What if paramedics wanted to go on strike? Would the societal effects of that choice be morally relevant?

. December 11, 2008 at 11:47 pm

In the news: Victims of the transit strike
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 11, 2008

Tristan December 12, 2008 at 1:24 am

Since when is how much someone deserves to make a moral issue?

BuddyRich December 12, 2008 at 9:02 am

I think a lot of this comes down to what we perceive as value.

I am pro-union, yet I do think the bus drivers are holding the city (and as a corollary its citizens) for ransom with their strike tactics. Ransom is a strong word, but they are trying to get the biggest settlement from the city they can, and they are using whatever legal means they can. I fully support their right to do so. I spent two hours in traffic yesterday and I was mightily inconvenienced by it. Yet at the same time it would be stupid for them to strike at a time when it doesn’t force the city’s hand to acquiesce to their demands. Ethically I suppose they could be more altruistic and not strike at so inconvenient a time but humans are rarely that.

Now I have heard a lot of people spout off terms like selfishness and greediness, because the bus drivers make an average of $60K/year, with a few senior drivers in excess of $100K and they are asking for more. Especially in a time when people are losing their jobs. These are “barely literate, high-school graduates making more than nurses, teachers, and in some cases doctors!”… “the city should fire them all and hire new drivers”… and the rage goes on. These are people that think the unions are corrupt, and have long outlived their usefulness, and do more to hurt the capitalist underpinnings of our society, then help. These are also people that are pro-big business and on the right of the political divide, but I don’t want to go there.

For whatever reason most people don’t seem to think a bus driver deserves to make the money they do. Most would accept the strike if they made like 30K and were asking for a bit more. And that is reflected somewhat in the comments above. I agree that theoretically it shouldn’t matter how much they make, but humans are not purely rational beings and emotions complicate the matter.

What’s funny is that people who think the bus drivers do make too much seem to think anyone would jump at the chance to land a job with OC Transpo solely because of the money, yet they’ve had 100 open positions for about a year (until recently, the city put a hiring freeze in place and is no longer accepting applications). They hardly filled any of them. So I don’t know if they could replace half of the drivers if they fired the lot of them, not to mention the training time, etc… The city would be without transit for a few weeks. The city has to settle or the drivers need to be forced back to work.

If anything comes out this strike, it will be to highlight how important mass transit is in this city, and when the time comes (Though the time is now as 4 plans, ranging in cost from $1B to $4B , are on the table), get people talking about revamping this cities transit system in the future, as people will have first hand experience of just how important it is, and hopefully city planners are noting where the bottlenecks are to get an idea of the areas that need the most servicing. The ironic thing is that the people that are complaining about the drivers making too much, are also the ones complaining about the price tag of a transit system, yet won’t support any future plan unless it supports there area first… as they are also the ones complaining about being stuck in traffic the longest on their commutes into town from various suburbs…

I suppose they could also shed some good light on modern city planning and urban intensification vs. sprawl as well… yet I fear those discussions will get lost as people angrily spout off about the greedy bus drivers.

This is a golden opportunity to do some good but I fear it will be squandered.

Magictofu December 12, 2008 at 10:23 am

Let’s try to agree on a few simple ideas:

1) A strike is a tactic, not an end in itself. One could agree with the demands of the drivers while disagreeing with their choice of tactics. This also means that being against a strike does not mean being against unions in general.

2) There are other means than a strike that workers and employers can use to reach a deal during labor disputes. Arbitration is a well known one but other measures also exist. When I was younger, bus drivers in my home town decided not to enforce the payment of the usual fare to put pressure on the employer.

3) Strikes can be and are in effect regulated. Limit already exists on the use of picket lines and workers in some professions have stricter limits on their ability to strike (police, health workers, etc.). A few years ago, nurses in Québec did strike, however they nonetheless performed their minimal obligations under the law; paper work and other unessential duties were not performed.

4) Strikes can also be self regulated by employers and their union. Again, a long time ago in my home town, I remember that certain bus routes were maintained open during the strike to insure a minimal amount of service for the population.

5) Therefore, limiting the effects of a strike on a third party (e.g. the public) has nothing to do with making a strike illegal or siding with the employer. Such accusations are obviously groundless and only serve to polarize the debate through a “you are with me or against me” type of argument.

6) What is left to debate is this: is it appropriate for participants in a dispute to inflict suffering to a third party (directly or indirectly) in order to gain an advantage in solving the dispute? My points of view on this vary from case to case but I have expressed my feelings regarding the OC Transpo strikes in previous messages.

Magictofu December 12, 2008 at 10:33 am

“Maybe, but you can’t get the same mileage out of this notion – the way “taking the public hostage” is meant is the idea that somehow “by taking the public hostage”, they will get more money. But it’s actually the employer who is holding the public “hostage”, in the sense that it any time he can stop the labour dispute, and he is the one with obligations towards the public.”

The reason people use the word hostage is that a third party is made to pay for a dispute between others. To use the Pentagon language, we could probably also talk about colateral damage.

That being said, the employer is not the only one who can stop the labor dispute. The workers can do it too through their unions. As I tried to argue many times, it goes both ways.

Magictofu December 12, 2008 at 10:45 am

“I’ve already explained why this kind of logic makes no sense. It’s not the bus drivers that the public has an economic relationship with, its the bus company. You have to ask, are the demands so egregious that the employer serves the public good better by having the union go on strike rather than just meeting them. ”

I’ve just re-read this passage and it strikes me as being another explanation of why strikes should be limited in such cases. If the employer has the public good in mind (as city officials should), he/she should accept the demands of the union and put an end to the strike because the effects on society are too important to ignore. This places the unionized workers in a much stronger position to negotiate than the employer who can only accept whatever the workers ask in order to preserve the public good.

I am not sure I totally buy this kind of logic though. I’ll have to think a bit more about it.

Milan December 12, 2008 at 11:08 am

There is a long and detailed discussion of this strike and unions in general below this blog post, written by XUP.

Milan December 12, 2008 at 11:11 am

Tristan,

On your ‘freedom of association’ point, I think it needs to be made clear that people don’t have a moral right to associate for any purpose. I don’t have the right to meet up with a bunch of friends and block entry to hospitals, unless people pay us $50 a piece. Extortion as part of a collective is still extortion.

In the case of unions, the defence against the charge of extortion is to say that the purpose of the action is sufficiently important to justify it. That is especially true in the case of public sector unions or monopolies, since the people being harmed are not directly part of the dispute.

Tristan December 12, 2008 at 12:53 pm

Milan,

What you are here discussing is not the right to strike, but the right to detain the passage of cars for a certain length of time. These rights are different in different places, some places only “soft pickets” are allowed, which means you can protest but not hold cars at all. Other places unions are allowed to hold cars for one or two minutes each, or less.

Detaining someone for a small period of time is not the same as not letting them go through at all. The decisions regarding this are both specific to each jurisdiction, and the police have a lot of power to take away even this right if they think it is in the interests of the peace.

Milan December 12, 2008 at 12:58 pm

Tristan,

I definitely wasn’t talking about detaining people, specifically.

I was asserting that freedom of association cannot be used to automatically justify actions that harm third parties.

People have a right to their liberty, and this includes the right to freely associate with others and bargain for better working conditions.

The issue here is what kind of bargaining tactics are appropriate. It seems to be that the scope of what is acceptable is most constrained when it comes to people who are (or who are effectively) government employees and provide an important monopolistic service.

Milan December 12, 2008 at 1:08 pm

Magictofu,

What is left to debate is this: is it appropriate for participants in a dispute to inflict suffering to a third party (directly or indirectly) in order to gain an advantage in solving the dispute?

I think this is the right basic question, though the answer would almost never be a clearcut ‘yes’ or ‘no.’

I think the balance that needs to be struck is between the importance of the issue causing the strike and the amount of trouble it causes. The more harm to the public, the more obligation the strikers have to justify their actions.

Purely self-interested justifications are a lot less convincing to third parties than those that involve some future benefit for the people being harmed.

Magictofu December 12, 2008 at 1:39 pm

I completely agree with you on this Milan

Tristan December 12, 2008 at 1:43 pm

“On your ‘freedom of association’ point, I think it needs to be made clear that people don’t have a moral right to associate for any purpose. I don’t have the right to meet up with a bunch of friends and block entry to hospitals, unless people pay us $50 a piece. Extortion as part of a collective is still extortion.”

This is a very confused example. Of course people don’t have the right to commit extortion, nor encourage others to commit extortion. My point is the right to free association means it can’t be against right to as a group freely choose to do something which, to do as an individual, would be legal.

Milan December 12, 2008 at 1:45 pm

The whole point of strikes is that they cannot be undertaken by individuals.

If a single person somehow shut down’s Ottawa’s public transport system, it would definitely be seen as both immoral and a crime.

Magictofu December 12, 2008 at 1:58 pm

The more I think about this, the more I actually believe that targetted property destruction or even physical violence, although illegal, can be a morally superior choice to a legal strike with subtancially more important negative effects on a third party.

That being said, just in case the RCMP is reading these comments, let’s be clear that I do not advocate property destruction or physical violence…

Tristan December 12, 2008 at 2:57 pm

I don’t have any more time to devote to consequentialists.

. December 12, 2008 at 5:37 pm

No deal to bring a quick end to Ottawa transit strike
Updated: Fri Dec. 12 2008 4:11:16 PM
ctvottawa.ca

“The City of Ottawa has rejected a federal mediator’s middle-ground proposal, which the city’s transit union was prepared to accept; a move that puts a halt to the possibility of ending a three-day transit strike that has crippled the nation’s capital.

The president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, who represents more than 2,100 transit workers, says the deal would have put OC Transpo workers back on the job within a 24-hour period.

Instead, Mayor Larry O’Brien wants the transit union to let its membership vote on the city’s final offer, which the union’s executive rejected earlier this week.

The offer included a seven per cent wage increase over three years, a one-time payment of $2,000 to all ATU members, two additional sick days, and would allow OC Transpo management to take over driver scheduling from the union.

O’Brien told reporters Friday if the membership voted 51 per cent in favour of the deal, he would push it through council to end the dispute as soon as possible.”

Tristan December 13, 2008 at 1:33 am

Forced ratification votes completely bypass the collective bargaining process.

They are basically a joke, it’s very depressing that a conservative ontario provincial government passed the law giving the employer the right to do this.

Oleh December 15, 2008 at 4:44 am

I found this discussion very interesting.

I have just opened the comments two weeks after the initial posting so I suspect the dialogue has run its course.

I did not find widesweeping characterizations helpful.

An example is “Show me one person who would take for one instance the smooth operation of government over justice and I will show you a man who hates liberty.”

Such statements simply seem like rhetoric.

I also see the power of the public sector employees as giving public servants who provide essential services unfair advantage. The public servant are entrusted to serve the public who are their employers. In this case the bus driver provides an essential service. By striking s/he can deprive others of their ability to pursue or earn their own living. A bus strike is also more likely to effect the more poorly paid workers who rely on public transit.

This is a very strong advantage.

The employer is the public. The public as taxpayers pay the salaries of the public servants. For that reason the public interest which includes smooth operation of of essential public services is different from private sector strikes and preferring that over the vague concept of “justice” does not mean that someone hates liberty (also a vague notion and perhaps even a luxury if you have to walk kilometers in the Ottawa cold to get to your job because you can not afford a car.

I am also confused about the comment that the BC public sector strikes were imposed. I have been living in BC for quite some time including the recent union contracts. I do not recall they being largely imposed. I do recall the agreements being reached well before they expired in general.

In regard to having not only duties to one’s employer but also duties to the customers of one’s employer, it seems obvious to me that one would have those duties. For example if I was a teaching assistant at a university, I hope that I would feel a duty to be a good teaching assistant to the students that I teach (which I suppose are the customers of my employer).

I enjoyed reading the discussion and thank you for your attention to perhaps the longest blog entry of the 10 or so blog entries I have ever made.

Anonymous December 15, 2008 at 8:59 am

Since the union involved in this strike says the major reason for the strike is their desire to maintain a scheduling system based on seniority, we could also discuss the merits and problems with such systems in general.

In schools, for instance, teacher’s unions tend to demand more pay and job security for whoever has been teaching longest.

While this probably helps to create smooth career paths, it does favour sheer longevity over competence. Arguably, most of the effects of the existence of unions favour their most mediocre members, at the expense of their most capable and productive ones.

Milan December 15, 2008 at 11:12 am

Anonymous,

That seems worth a second thread. Keep your eyes open for a new post.

Tristan December 15, 2008 at 2:01 pm

Anonymous,

The union is expected to act in the general interests of its membership. So, why would we expect it to act in a way that would benefit its most productive members at expense to the more mediocre ones?

But, at least we are discussing the substantive content of the strike.

Steve W December 16, 2008 at 2:14 pm

Is there any word on when this strike will end?

John Thomas December 22, 2008 at 11:47 am

I hope it doesnt end until the union is broke and the drivers on homeless

DY December 25, 2008 at 9:40 am

Fuck those union people, if they don’t like their fucking job, go get a new one, plenty of people are looking for job that pays well and requires little educational background. Tomorrow is boxing day and the only ways i could get around the city is by bus or taxi, and i’ve already paid for the first one, the second one would probably cost me about 50 dollar from here to downtown, so fuck those union cock-sucker for going on strike on christmas, I have no sympathy for them what-so-ever, i hope some of them get fired, even.

Jeff December 25, 2008 at 6:46 pm

If I didn’t show up for work after 12 days I believe my boss would hire someone else to do my job. So why doesn’t the city just start posting jobs for bus drivers. Once they hire a few hundred the ones that aren’t showing for work will soon get the idea and jump in line to get a job or be on the welfare line.

Tristan December 26, 2008 at 1:02 am

“If I didn’t show up for work after 12 days I believe my boss would hire someone else to do my job.”

Of course that’s true. That’s why in a strike everyone withdraws their labour at the same time. If you worked in an office with ten thousand employees and everyone didn’t show up at work for ten days straight, do you think your boss would just fire everyone? And what if everyone together threatened to not come back if a single person was fired – do you think your boss would fire one person?

A strike is just a mass withdrawal of labour subject to certain conditions which people exercise through free association.

Honestly.

. December 30, 2008 at 1:24 pm

Transit union boss disputes city’s claim it offered arbitration

By Mohammed Adam
December 26, 2008

“Ottawa • OC Transpo union president André Cornellier said Friday the city never made an offer to take the contentious issue of work scheduling that is at the heart of the strike to arbitration, contradicting what the mayor said at a news conference earlier this week.”

Sides await minister’s decision on bus strike

Federal intervention could put offer to vote by transit workers

By Tim Shufelt, with files from Mohammed Adam
December 29, 2008

“With OC Transpo and its striking employees digging in for the long haul, Rona Ambrose is emerging as an unlikely saviour.

The Edmonton MP and federal labour minister will return to Ottawa after the holidays with the full weight of an increasingly bitter transit strike resting squarely on her shoulders. If thousands of Ottawa residents heading back to work or school are going to get any relief from a strike that has strangled the city, Ms. Ambrose may be their only hope.”

Hate the strike, but don’t hate the strikers

Those left stranded by the lack of buses should remember drivers are hurting too

By Hugh Adami
December 21, 2008

“Of course, it is different in Transpo land, where the bus company and its drivers are slagged at every opportunity.

But I must confess the Transpo strike has been a real eye-opener. How brutally vile and vicious we’ve been toward the men and women whom many depend on almost every day.

True, the bus drivers, who make up 1,700 workers of the 2,300 on strike, aren’t serving the public right now. But I think they do have a legitimate reason.

Their labour dispute is about one issue — Transpo wants to seize back control of scheduling its drivers, a right that was given to them in 1999 for passing up on a pay raise.”

Shift regime the big concern

Transit workers’ fears sound reasonable, but scheduling challenges not that simple

By Randall Denley
December 20, 2008

“At last, a bus driver who can explain why his colleagues think the shift scheduling issue at OC Transpo is worth striking over.

The city’s proposal to allow management to structure more efficient shifts seems entirely reasonable, especially when drivers will still be able to choose when they can work. That freedom is one most employees just don’t have.

But there is a major sticking point in the new plan, says bus driver Chris Petersen. What worries him is that the new shift regime can spread a bus driver’s day over as many as 13.5 hours. The contract now says that shifts “shall normally be completed” in 12 hours. To Peterson, that extra 1.5 hours is a big deal. Instead of starting a day at 6 a.m. and finishing at 6 p.m., it could mean a day that doesn’t end until 7:30 p.m., with more dead time in the middle.”

. January 2, 2009 at 9:39 am

Government forces vote in Ottawa bus strike

TERRY PEDWELL

The Canadian Press

December 31, 2008 at 5:41 PM EST

OTTAWA — The federal government is forcing a vote in a strike that has crippled public transit in the nation’s capital – and could push some buses back onto the road even if the deal is rejected.

As city revellers searched for alternate transportation Wednesday to head out for New Year’s Eve celebrations, Labour Minister Rona Ambrose ordered the Canada Industrial Relations Board to conduct a supervised vote on the City of Ottawa’s latest contract proposal.

anonymouse :) January 6, 2009 at 6:56 pm

this strike is soooo stupid! the bus drivers want “respect” but you know what they’re going to get the first day they’re back?? the middle finger from everyone left stranded out there.

fuck the bus drivers. i’m glad that the city’s not doing anything…they get paid enough as it is and why the hell do they care who schedules them??? hopefully after the city takes over, my bus will get there on time…or there at all for that matter

it’s not like the bus drivers have been doing a stupendous job that we miss them every day. SO many times they are rude, late, unrespectful or just creepy. i say fuck you cause you just got me even more angry at you

so people, how about we show them how much we “feel for them” and give them the middle finger the day they’re back and behave the way they do most of the time with all the riders?? sound like a plan? i think so.

Secret January 7, 2009 at 6:17 pm

The city should start hiring new people…and start with major road, like 95 , 97 etc..for maintenance , mechanics, well isnt it lots of major car dealers closed/closing and people lose their job…i will start contacting them and offer them a job. THE CITY SHOULD FIRE THEM ALL… and if they their job back..they should apply for it. and that union leader…damn…he is gonna a hard time to find a job.

Rhys Morgan January 7, 2009 at 8:35 pm

i have tried to keep an open mind about this issue, i always believe in fair rights… however after watching the concequnces this selfish strike has caused already, im very rapidly growing a deep resentment to the people taking part. Designed to cause the most anguish to the ottawa citizens as possible, it has cost many people time, education and in many cases jobs.

i have lost respect for the greedy employees who are on 60k a year for sitting on their frequenlty fatasses. there are thousands of good willing people who throw themselves at the chance to takes these busdrivers places… jesus they need to wake up and smell the coffee and realise they they dont need fuck all of an education for that job and should be on minium wage.

Margret thatcher pwned the fuck out of the stupid british unions, thats wat need to happen here. DONT GIVE IN TO THE STRIKE. LET THE RATS STARVE

. January 8, 2009 at 11:50 am

Strikers confident they will reject contract

By Thulasi Srikanthan and Jake Rupert, The Ottawa Citizen
January 8, 2009 11:24 AM

OTTAWA — Hundreds of striking OC Transpo members turned out to vote Thursday morning at Lansdowne Park to decide whether to accept or reject the city’s latest contract offer.

Union officials estimated around 400 people have shown up so far.

Ana Schifferes January 8, 2009 at 12:56 pm

People on the web sure are being angry jerks about this strike!

When the union first got the right to do its scheduling this way, they gave up a pay rise in exchange for it. If the city isn’t going to pay them back for abandoning it now, they have the right to keep it.

The strike certainly sucks for people who are transit dependent, but that doesn’t mean OC Transpo staff should be forced into an unfair agreement!

Tristan January 8, 2009 at 1:23 pm

I don’t mind if people oppose the strike because they think the union’s interests in this case are at odds with the public interest. But, for the most part, it seems people just like to repeat standard empty cliche phrases like “the union is holding us hostage” and “what right do they have to these demands” when it’s very clear that the union is exercising a legal right that it does in fact have, which follows from the right to free association. It’s certainly possible to exercise a legal right inappropriately, but for the most part our civil discourse doesn’t come to even recognizing that people we disagree with may not be idiots.

Milan January 8, 2009 at 1:51 pm

Ana,

There is some sense to that.

This being said, whatever negotiations went into the last contract only established the form of the contract that was agreed. While the previous agreement is often going to be the starting point for finding a new one, it isn’t necessarily the case that compromises made before need to be honoured after. Indeed, that is the whole reason for which contracts get re-negotiated, as opposed to simply extended in perpetuity.

Tristan,

I don’t think people are claiming the union is exceeding its legal rights. Rather, they are arguing that it is behaving legally yet unfairly or immorally.

There is a lot of immoral stuff that you can do within the bounds of the law. While “What I am doing is legal” can be a defence against some forms of response (such as calling the police), it doesn’t stop people from trying to stop you, or at least wanting to stop you, in other ways.

In this case, I think the law is only especially relevant insofar as it established which tactics each side can use. When it comes to the fundamental conflict between union members who want a contract with certain elements included and city dwellers who want active bus service, the law doesn’t have much importance.

Milan January 8, 2009 at 2:15 pm

Tristan,

You have argued many times that the union only needs to think about its own interests when deciding whether to strike or not.

Why isn’t that true of transit users, as well? Isn’t it equally rational for them to support whatever policy ends the strike, no matter how much it hurts the members of the union?

Just as it is legitimate to call upon transit users to consider the legitimate moral claims of union members, it is legitimate to call on union members to consider the interests of the transit-using public when deciding whether to strike (or remain on strike).

. January 8, 2009 at 2:31 pm

What ‘essential’ really means

While the strike has caused much hardship, the bar for forcing drivers back to their buses is high — at least until Parliament becomes involved

By Michael Mac Neil, Citizen Special
January 8, 2009

Tristan January 8, 2009 at 6:24 pm

“Why isn’t that true of transit users, as well? Isn’t it equally rational for them to support whatever policy ends the strike, no matter how much it hurts the members of the union?”

It’s absolutely rational for transit users to support whatever policy ends the disturbance. This is why we say third parties affected by strikes are ‘reactionary’ – they react to the disturbance without having an interest in the fairness of its resolution. People qua transit users are pure reactionaries when it comes to the strike. However, those same transit users are also citizens and qua citizens they might care about fairness under the law, and they might be workers, and qua workers they might care about workers struggle.

But, you are absolutely right, insofar as ‘transit users’ is a group, they have just as much an obligation towards the union as the union has towards them. That is, no obligation at all – they have no economic or legal relationship. So, the union is free to ignore the interests of transit users and the transit users are free to ignore the interests of union members as union members. And this is what, for the most part, actually happens.

Milan January 8, 2009 at 7:09 pm

It’s absolutely rational for transit users to support whatever policy ends the disturbance.

First, the issue is less what’s rational and more what’s moral. Is is moral for transit riders to use all legal means to get the buses rolling again?

Second, what about pressing to have transit declared an essential service? There is a legal procedure for doing so, so it wouldn’t be a violation of the law.

In both cases (and in the case of whether the decision of the union members to strike is legitimate), I think the most important moral duties are the person-to-person ones that exist between all members of society.

Tristan January 8, 2009 at 9:54 pm

By “what’s rational” I mean what we should expect, what is in peoples best interest. Am I way off in a field thinking that we should expect to people at act in their best interests? Isn’t all of neo-classical economics based on this presupposition?

When you say “the issue is less what’s rational and more what’s moral”, I really don’t know what you mean by moral. Usually we say the moral act is the one that people ought to do. I think people should act rationally, according to what is in their best interest. What we conventionally think of as “morality” is what arises as real contracts and agreements between people – respecting those contracts makes society possible and is in everyone’s interest. Thus, morality becomes construed in terms of legislation. The mistake is to think that it existed beforehand, and thus that the “moral” action has some existence independent of the social reality we find ourselves in.

. January 9, 2009 at 9:23 am

Unsurprising breaking news: Transit strike continues
posted by coyote

Friday, January 09, 2009

Milan January 9, 2009 at 9:29 am

Tristan,

By “what’s rational” I mean what we should expect, what is in peoples best interest. Am I way off in a field thinking that we should expect to people at act in their best interests? Isn’t all of neo-classical economics based on this presupposition?

Neoclassical economics (which you frequently criticize) is arguably most lacking in its incorporation of decision-making. The whole emergent field of behavioural economics is seeking to respond to this. There are innumerable cases of people acting against their ‘best’ interest. Of course, ‘best’ interest is hard to define. Is a young person failing to save for retirement acting in their best interest or not? In the end, economics isn’t a very powerful mechanism for understanding human motivation. It can provide useful insight in some circumstances, but often provides people with the false sense that it is applicable in all cases.

I don’t think your ‘morality = rationality + law’ account is very convincing. We behave morally, and expect others to do so, in situations where the law does not compel any particular action, and where being moral is costly to us. As I have argued before, there is no fundamental connection between morality and law.

Milan January 9, 2009 at 9:42 am

There are cases where it is moral to violate (a) the law (b) your economic self interest and (c) your self interest understood more broadly. For example, helping escaped American slaves get to Canada or sheltering Tutsis during the Rwandan genocide. Such acts are likely to cost you money, and put you in serious risk if the authorities find out.

Most acts of the defiance of an immoral authority probably satisfy the criterion of contradicting self interest.

Milan January 9, 2009 at 9:48 am

Finally, there are also acts that are (a) legal, (b) financially advantageous, and (c) personally advantageous which are nonetheless immoral. For instance, capturing escaped slaves in order to collect the bounties on them, or working as a senior torturer for an autocratic regime.

Acts of personally beneficial complicity with an immoral authority also demonstrate that a morality based on law and self-interest is lacking.

dfgs January 9, 2009 at 10:28 am

OC TRANSPO IS A BUNCH OF RETARDS! This shows it is not just the unions fault as the drivers voted to strike. They have lost all respect from me

. January 9, 2009 at 10:33 am

union-ited en-raged
Filed under: ottawa — bob @ 9:19 am January 9, 2009

So NO is how our beloved drivers voted. They voted no to show “solidarity” and tell the city that its not about the money, its about the scheduling. So basically they said “this scheduling detail is big enough for us to NOT work and we think its worth holding the city hostage for”. Negotiation? Bargaining? Its a frickin JOB, either take it, or don’t!!!@%!

It seems an awful lot like a monopoly system to me, the type of system most courts and governments try hard to protect their citizens from.

Tristan January 9, 2009 at 3:33 pm

When I say “best interest” I mean actual best interest, not what they think is in their best interest. For example, in the sense that we say the Republicans are largely successful because they get people to vote against their class interests. This might sound ridiculous, but I just think it’s in peoples best interests to be happy – but happiness not as a pleasure machine, but as something about having a fullfilled life. Am I way out in left field to think that?

Is acting as a torturer ever in your real best interests? This seems highly unlikely. I think Kant is basically right when he claims that acting morally doesn’t make you happy, but is a precondition for being worthy of happiness at all. I read an article in Harpers a few years ago about an American torturer who had killed someone at Guantanamo, who now lives in the suburbs somewhere – I doubt very much that he is happy, or that he ever will be. I might be wrong – but look at the implications if I am – if you can be happy after committing acts of unbelievable violence because of money or power interests, on what grounds can we ask people not to commit those acts?

If it really is in someone’s best interest to commit blatantly immoral acts, then it seems there is no morality other than social custom – that morality is just a system we set up ad hawk and after the fact to try to keep people from acting selfishly when it hurts others – a kind of Nozickian night-watchman theory of morality. Furthermore, this would mean that the foole is not really foolish at all – he’s the one whose escaped the “false consciousness” of morality and is acting in his own best interests – he takes the costs of acting immorally only as the possibiilty of getting caught and being punished, not as failing to be a human being.

Milan January 9, 2009 at 3:53 pm

Is acting as a torturer ever in your real best interests?

The torture case is an extreme one, but the general principle is sound. When you are confronted with an immoral entity (a gang, an immoral government, etc) there are frequently situations where aiding them is beneficial in personal and financial terms. In most cases, such aid is unlikely to be personally scarring in the way torturing people might be. You could, for example, work in a factory manufacturing weapons, or install computer hardware that will ultimately be used for spying on political dissidents.

All I meant to illustrate is that the morality or immorality of an action has little to do with what is legal or illegal, rational or irrational.

Another way of saying this is to assert that behaving in a moral way often requires courage. By contrast, acting in a way that conforms to the law and your self interests rarely or never does.

Milan January 9, 2009 at 4:02 pm

When I say “best interest” I mean actual best interest, not what they think is in their best interest.

I certainly agree that people are often mistaken about what is in their best interest. For instance, lots of people continue to do things that are acutely harmful to them, either through simple momentum or the fear that the alternatives will be even worse. That applies to people who remain in abusive relationships, people who continue working in jobs they hate, some people with substance abuse problems, etc.

If it really is in someone’s best interest to commit blatantly immoral acts, then it seems there is no morality other than social custom

I don’t see the logic here at all. If box of valuables falls off the back of a truck, it will always be in your interest to steal them. It doesn’t follow from that that morality is only a social custom, though that statement may well be true. There simply isn’t any clear logic here linking them.

If it was always in your interests to behave morally, there would be no need for any sort of public ethics, a legal system, and so forth. It is the fact that people are often put into situations where their interests conflict with what is ethical that requires all this discussion and all these social structures.

I think you are confusing the need for institutions that apply morality in a concrete way with the idea that morality is just some flimsy custom. While I agree that most (if not all) of morality is a social construct, it nonetheless flows from the kinds of circumstances that people encounter, the needs that human beings have, and the circumstances in which they live their lives. Those things are largely the same now as they were when people were still universally hunter-gatherers.

There are lots of kinds of moral codes that can ‘get the job done’ just as there are many kinds of boats that can be appropriately used for some purposes. Just like morality, boats are constructed by applying human knowledge to practical problems. That doesn’t make them arbitrary, however, and there are still concrete mechanisms through which good boats (and good moral codes) can be distinguished from bad ones.

Guy January 9, 2009 at 5:10 pm

I really don’t care about political things, or the other things like ” they’ll be affected more than anyone else” or blah blah blah. You can’t tell what they think, and don’t try to say ” Oh I think they think blah blah blah.”
You can’t tell what they think, and I know for a fact that this is harming many people, so take up something and argue with that.

Tristan January 9, 2009 at 7:11 pm

“If box of valuables falls off the back of a truck, it will always be in your interest to steal them.”

I just disagree. I think it’s in your best interest to return it to the authorities. That’s what I mean when I say stealing is immoral – I mean it’s in your best interest not to steal. I can’t understand how we can sustain a difference between “my best interest” and “acting morally” without becoming some sort of schizophrenic (i.e. having 2 sets of competing desires or needs and no way to adjudicate between them).

If the only reason you don’t steal is because you might get caught, then you’re the foole. (But, again, you could convince me that he foole isn’t a fool).

Milan January 9, 2009 at 7:18 pm

I think it’s in your best interest to return it to the authorities.

Why? How does this leave you at all better off? I think a fair chunk of the population would actually regret this decision, after the fact, rather than having their utility increased by the knowledge of having ‘done the right thing.’

If you define acting morally as acting in your best interest, then it becomes tautological to say that the two are the same. I see more usefulness in defining ‘interest’ more narrowly – in terms of the concrete risks and rewards associated with different courses of action.

No car in Orleans January 9, 2009 at 8:02 pm

In the spirit of fairness and compromise, the city and union can both SUCK MY SWEATY NUTS! Sort out the deal and END THIS FUCKING STRIKE ALREADY!

Cock goblin January 9, 2009 at 9:10 pm

GODDAMIT!

Sick of it January 10, 2009 at 1:02 am

I am sick and tired of the ATU being trashed. They are trying to get the best possible deal for their members. The real cuprit here is Larry and his gang. This strike did not need to take place and could have been resolved long before now. The contract was up in April and apparently the City didn’t start their negotiations until October/November! I do feel sorry for those affected by the strike but you need to put some pressure on the Mayor and Councillors. They could end this very quickly and easily. Their contingency plans should give you an idea of how much they care for Ottawa residents. Biking in -20 degree weather? Car pooling with perfect strangers? Oh and by the way try calling 311. I did and was passed on to several recorded messages. Is there a good reason why Council didn’t meet today? Why do we have to wait another 5 days for them to meet? Come on people. We need our buses. Get off your duff and negotiate with the ATU and get the buses back on the road.

Tristan January 10, 2009 at 4:25 am

I’m not defining morality as what’s in one’s best interest, I’m saying I believe that the moral action is in our best interest – this is a claim that, for reasons you point out, is very contentious. It would seem that what’s in our best interest is not returning the money, and we’d want to say that even if we believe that the moral action is to return the money. I disagree, I think the person who doesn’t return the money is worse off (presuming it actually is immoral not to return the money), because they won’t be able to live with themselves, and if they can, only because they’ve de-humanized themselves. But of course, I’m way of in a field because I think morality has to do with being the kind of beings that we are, not just a random set of demands put on us by logic combined with our situation.

. January 13, 2009 at 12:29 pm

Weather for Ottawa, ON, Canada

Tuesday, January 13th:

High: 0°C
Low: -26°C

Wednesday, January 14th:

High: -22°C
Low: -29°C

Thursday, January 15th:

High: -21°C
Low: -32°C

Friday, January 16th:

High: -12°C
Low: -14°C

. January 13, 2009 at 12:57 pm

Transit strike has cost $280M
By Mohammed Adam, The Ottawa Citizen

Ottawa • The transit strike that has inflicted considerable suffering and inconvenience on Ottawa residents has also cost the local economy $280 million and thousands of jobs, economic analysts say.

That breaks down to roughly $8 million a day in forgone retail sales, wages and reduced productivity.

Tristan January 13, 2009 at 1:33 pm

Funny that the employer, which supposedly is equivocal with the city, is willing to lose 280 million dollars to win a bit of an advantage in scheduling. Probably, most of that 280 million number that has been costed is not money that actually shows up on a ledger anywhere – in other words, the cost is externalized to businesses and the general public. Funny how willing the city is to externalize costs onto it’s own population.

Milan January 13, 2009 at 1:39 pm

According to the article, the $280 million is all borne by the public. By contrast, the city is saving $3 million a week in salaries, fuel and maintenance of the buses.

Milan January 13, 2009 at 1:42 pm

“That breaks down to roughly $8 million a day in forgone retail sales, wages and reduced productivity.

The retail loss alone is $3.3 million a day and analyst Barry Nabatian says Ottawa’s downtown has taken the brunt of the strike.

The lost business trimmed 5,200 retail jobs from Ottawa-Gatineau in December, a sharp reversal, says Mr. Nabatian, as employment typically goes up in anticipation of the busy holiday season. Ottawa alone lost 4,100 jobs. “

. January 13, 2009 at 1:46 pm

Mediated transit talks party short

Union blames city for raising ‘false hope’ of new negotiations

By Jake Rupert, The Ottawa Citizen
January 13, 2009

OTTAWA — Any hope for a quick end to Ottawa’s 35-day-old transit strike was dashed Monday, and it’s not clear when negotiations between the municipality and the Amalgamated Transit Union will begin again.

Last Friday, following a solid rejection of a city offer in a union membership vote, municipal officials contacted a federal mediator and made arrangements to meet Monday morning. On Friday, city officials said it was their “understanding” the mediator would meet with the union Monday afternoon to explore restarting talks.

However, Randy Graham, the union’s international vice-president, said Monday there never was a plan for union leaders to meet with with a mediator to discuss the possibility and potential terms of restarting negotiations with the city. He said it’s “unfortunate” the city created “false hope” for an end to the dispute by suggesting a formal process to kickstart negotiations was in place.

Marc January 13, 2009 at 2:31 pm

I would encourage the City of Ottawa and the users of public transport to take a hard stand against the union and not give into their demands. I would like to see City of Ottawa pursue other avenues such as replacement workers, labelling the service as an essential service, or even disbanding OC Transpo as it currently resides and starting another transit company. The City of Ottawa and its bus riding public cannot be forced to the tactics of the OC Transpo union everytime their contract is up for renewal.

Tristan January 13, 2009 at 10:05 pm

Marc,

If you actually believe the Union’s demands would have a worse effect on the city of Ottawa than the 280 billion the employer’s decision not to accept them has cost, and the same for the ongoing cost, then I can respect your position.

Also, you should keep in mind that as a taxpayer in Ottawa, you have a right to this public transit – and the city right now is saying it would rather not give you that service than give into the current union demands. Personally, as a bus user, I’d be very angry at the service provider who claimed in advance it would offer some service and then failed to provide it it in the end. If there was competition between different bus lines, a strike like this could presumably increase market share for the other ones, but since there is only one, the employer has no market share loss incentive to end the strike.

Magictofu January 14, 2009 at 9:49 am

Tristan, are you suggesting that the city should always accept the union’s requests? I think that as direct or indirect taxpayers, residents also have a right to ensure that public money is well spent.

That being said, I do not know enough about the details of the negotiation to have a clear opinion on the issue… so far, I’ve only heard clear justifications from the city, not from the union. I am hoping that the public get a better understanding of the union’s demand over the next days.

Angie January 14, 2009 at 12:37 pm

I guess my friends and I underestimated the duration of the strike. We never expected it to go so long. Well, adjustments are coming in fast for my friends and I. We found ride share and carpool services from local classifieds sites, craigslist.com, khrido.com People can really come together when needed.

Tristan January 14, 2009 at 1:51 pm

Magic Tofu,

The city should always do what is in the city’s best interest. If it’s in the cities best interest to give into a few union demands to prevent 280 million dollars lost in the Ottawa economy, then, ya probably they should give into the demands.

Milan January 14, 2009 at 2:13 pm

But this isn’t a one-off interaction. The outcome of this strike will determine how other public sector unions will behave in the future.

For the city, there is a deterrent value in having the transit workers fail to achieve their objectives.

Tristan January 14, 2009 at 2:32 pm

Of course, the city needs to consider the long term interest of the city. Still, 280 million – this strike had better really keep those unions down. Does anyone know what the demands are costed at?

Milan January 14, 2009 at 3:59 pm

The city cannot afford to negotiate as though the $280 million was its own money. If they did – and accepted all union demands up to that cost – they would rapidly go bankrupt. This is precisely why there is some validity to arguments that the union is holding the city hostage. They can, in effect, destroy something more valuable than their own services.

Choosing the best policy is naturally very difficult, given the need to be strategic and the uncertainties involved. It may well be better to have longer and more unpleasant strikes if they ultimately lead to fewer concessions and less frequent strikes overall.

Personally, I see some appeal to the idea of re-establishing OC Transpo as a non-union workplace, though I don’t know if that could be done legally, or how much it would cost.

Tristan January 14, 2009 at 5:12 pm

Why does the city need to act as if money it happens to have is so different from money exchanged between its citizens? Both represent equivalent amounts of wealth.

The union is holding the city hostage is a less meaningful way than the city is holding its population hostage – it is the employer that has obligations towards transit users, not the union. If you disagree, find it written in a contract somewhere – don’t assert unsubstantiated “moral” requirements that are as arbitrary as any academic discussion.

Milan January 14, 2009 at 5:20 pm

Why does the city need to act as if money it happens to have is so different from money exchanged between its citizens? Both represent equivalent amounts of wealth.

Do you think the city should have been willing to give the strikers $279 million in exchange for not striking? What happens when some other public sector union that can cause $100 million in harm starts making demands, do they get $99 million?

The wider economic costs associated with the strike are certainly of concern, but they are not the metric according to which the city should decide whether to grant a particular concession or not.

As for the issue of the public as a hostage, it isn’t necessary for hostage-taking to be a crime in order for it to work. For instance, security deposits put down on apartments are a kind of ‘hostage.’ The problem here is that the union has too much power, and is thus (theoretically) capable of extracting too many concessions from the city/population. That is why reducing the number and power of public sector unions is probably a good idea, from a total societal welfare standpoint.

Tristan January 14, 2009 at 6:17 pm

This difficulty is dealt with by my caveat that the city needs to take long term interests in mind. This includes long term interests in the form of the 280 million dollar figure, and long term interests in the sense of projected settlements with other public sector unions. There is no need to “ignore” any figure – but I agree with the gist of what you are saying.

Oleh January 15, 2009 at 2:28 am

This discussion started started 36 days ago under the banner OC tranpo strike looming. Now we have the opportunity to see it from a wider perspective.

The length of this strike when the apparent differences are relatively slight seems to support a view that in this case the present structure did not work. It is frustrating that transit users and the general population and businesses have borne the brunt of it.

A particular unfortunate part is in the area of lost jobs. It is reported that there are 5,200 lost retail jobs alone. It is unclear to me how that is tabulated. However clearly there has been a significant number of lost jobs and well beyond the retail sector alone.

Yet we are in a situation where the strike was not even undertaken for job security, The 2300 unions members jobs were basically secure. It was a question of scheduling which was at issue. The union was protecting its ability to control the scheduling, an anomaly in this and other industries.

It seems to be to be hard to support such an extended strike which has placed such a cost on innocent third parties on the basis of scheduling of secure jobs. It may be that it is the strike itself which places in jeopardy the jobs of the union members which previously were not even in jeopardy.

Even if one adopts the view of rational self – interest of union members, I doubt that those self-interests were served while those of tens of thousands of users were very ill-served.

By that measure the strike is a failure.

A random person January 15, 2009 at 9:40 am

Tristan,

It seems that you argue in favor of the union. But can you deny that the strike is affecting many people? Can you deny that many people are losing their jobs because of the union? In my opinion, Andre is a greedy person. The union workers get more money than college grads, and all they know is how to drive a bus, which doesn’t nearly take as much time and effort to learn as doing many things college grads do. Provided the money that they get, and sometimes the lousy attitude they give transit passengers, they shouldn’t be able to strike.

They talk about respect, but why are they still asking for a 10.5% raise in money? Cornellier obviously only has his own intrests in mind. Seeing as how he has kept this strike going for so long, and how he has made all those crappy excuses of “respect”, can you deny what I’m saying?

Can you deny that overall, the strike is bad? Because of 2,300 workers, over 5,000 people have lost their jobs. Is it really worth a little respect? The city has lost $280 million dollars. Is it really worth a little respect? If it is really about the respect?

Yes, Oleh, the strike is a failiure. The union is commanded by a greedy head, most likely, all the drivers are greedy too.

It’s obvious that Cornellier doesn’t realize the impact that he’s making on anyone. People are losing jobs and people are failing to even do their weekly grocery shopping, and he’s probably warm and comfortable.

I’d like to see you deny this now.

. January 15, 2009 at 11:10 am

Thursday, January 15, 2009
Union may target students, Para Transpo

The Ottawa Sun reports this morning that ATU 279 president Andre Cornellier is not ruling out picketing any private shuttles that accept city funding or the expanded Para Transpo service if it is staffed by new, non-unionized workers.

. January 16, 2009 at 1:24 pm

Transit union offers mediation, arbitration to end strike

By Jake Rupert , The Ottawa Citizen
January 16, 2009 1:06 PM

OTTAWA • Ottawa’s Amalgamated Transit Union says it will stop the weeks-long strike by 2,300 OC Transpo workers almost immediately if the city agrees to put the contentious issue of work scheduling into a separate mediation process and go to binding arbitration on the other outstanding bargaining issues.

At a press conference Friday, the union’s international vice-president Randy Graham said the union wants the strike to end and it is offering the city a way to get that.

Tristan January 16, 2009 at 1:38 pm

A Random Person

You are not a random person – you are a particular person, with a particular perspective on the issue. There is nothing dice-throwish about finding this blog and commenting on it, you obviously either read the blog regularly or searched it out because you are interested in the strike.

Do I think the head of the union is comfortable? Of course, and the head of the Employer’s representatives probably is comfortable too. Who cares? Who’se responsibility is it to worry about the cold suffering Ottawogers who can’t use the bus? I’ve made this argument countless times already – the bus drivers have no contractual obligations towards bus riders, where as the employer does. You have an economic relationship with the employer, not with the drivers. Both sides could resolve the strike at any minute, and the side that has the “moral” reason for doing so is the employer, because it has responsibility to the customers because it has a monopoly on transit service in the region. The bus drivers have no legal responsibility towards the customers because their relationship is only with the employer.

Milan January 16, 2009 at 2:05 pm

Tristan,

If, as you argue, the union has neither the obligation nor the willingness to consider the public interest and if, as seems obvious, the union has the ability and willingness to create large scale disruption, the obvious course of action for the city and the general public to support is the elimination of the union.

In general, I think it makes sense to seek a curbing of union presence in the public sector. For the reasons described above, it is inappropriate for public servants to exercise the right to strike. Further, the status of the government as a provider of monopoly services further increases the inappropriate power of the union, and the general inappropriateness of permitting unions in public sector employment.

A union willing to recognize its moral obligations to the public (as opposed to its technical lack of legal obligations) is something that may be acceptable. A union willing to use the disruption of city life in order to further a purely self-interested agenda is something the public should probably try to eliminate, or at least severely weaken.

Tristan January 16, 2009 at 2:25 pm

Milan,

Every employer would like to eliminate the union. However, so long as we have free association, it’s difficult to make a case against the right to strike. I think an easier and more libertarian solution would be to get rid of all anti-monopoly legislation, and allow the market to sort out the issue with the state assuring that liberty is accorded to all citizens.

The union has literally no force at all except the right to strike, so to advocate unions but not the right to strike is really nothing more than the kind of “third way” empty pro-labour rhetoric used by everyone from pro-union republicans to the NSDAP and PNF. This is not a serious choice.

Tristan January 16, 2009 at 2:28 pm

A lot of people are probably wondering why Queens Park hasn’t legislated York back to work, and the Ottawa Bus drivers back to work.

The reason is because Labour is a real voting block in Ontario. This is people organizing around their mutual interest and exerting democratic force. In other words, doing what they think is in their interest (and it’s not obvious they are wrong). If we lived in a Hegelian absolutist state, as I’ve advocated and I’ve been called insane for doing so, we could have the kind of “general interest” solutions you advocate. But so long as we have democracy, labour has a right to organize and fight for an improved standard of living for the working classes.

Milan January 16, 2009 at 2:31 pm

However, so long as we have free association, it’s difficult to make a case against the right to strike.

There is no absolute right to free association. Indeed, in Canada there are no absolute rights whatsoever.

Perhaps, for those working in the public sector, losing the right to strike may be in keeping with reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

I think an easier and more libertarian solution would be to get rid of all anti-monopoly legislation, and allow the market to sort out the issue with the state assuring that liberty is accorded to all citizens.

This is an insane idea. It would leave everybody vulnerable to the arbitrary whims and self-interested behaviour of both monopolist firms and monopolist unions.

Tristan January 16, 2009 at 2:37 pm

“This is an insane idea”

I don’t see what’s wrong with the free market being free, so long as the state makes sure no one’s liberties are violated.

“Perhaps, for those working in the public sector, losing the right to strike may be in keeping with reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

This is purely theoretical – as long as labour is a powerful political force, no party that advocates this kind of radical agenda will be able to take or stay in power. Again, you are the one who thinks an absolute dictator who acts in the universal interest is an insane idea.

Tristan January 16, 2009 at 2:42 pm

Also, the state should make sure everyone has food and shelter. But I think beyond that, the market should create the employment – don’t you?

Milan January 16, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Remember when a single company owned the whole telephone system and long-distance calls were absurdly expensive? Anti-monopoly legislation exists for a very good reason, and preventing monopolies is an important role for even the most ardent libertarian. They represent clear market failures.

As for restricting the right of public sector unions to strike, are you agreeing that it would be a positive step, but arguing that it is politically impossible? The latter may well be the case, though there is probably scope for restricting the power of public sector unions – for instance, by declaring more things to be essential services and by contracting out more work to private contractors that can be replaced if they stop working.

Also, the state should make sure everyone has food and shelter. But I think beyond that, the market should create the employment – don’t you?

I don’t understand what you mean by this.

Tristan January 16, 2009 at 3:06 pm

“As for restricting the right of public sector unions to strike, are you agreeing that it would be a positive step, but arguing that it is politically impossible?”

I don’t see such a strong disconnect between what is right and what is possible. I think to some extent, the situation you find yourself in determine what the right thing to do is. I’m not entirely sure that it’s possible to say our system is “better” or “worse” than a system of benevolant liberal dictatorship. It seems more likely that we can’t compare our system to it. And from within our system, it doesn’t make sense to consider the rightness or wrongness of impossible political steps.

But, I can still probably adjudicate this question – would it be a good thing for public labour unions to lose the right to strike in Canada? Well, no, because then we wouldn’t have public labour unions in a meaningful (i.e. non-coorperatist) sense. Do I think labour unions are important? Well, yes, they are one of the few way the lower classes can organize and fight for their interests.

Something that perhaps this whole debate boils down to is what is really in the public interest – raising what counts as a decent standard of living, or maximizing happiness? Rawls’ difference principle is the idealization of what Smith and Marx describe as a market fact – the continual becoming-neccesity of luxuries for the working class raises the “subsistence” wage, raising the amount the goods cost in socially-average-labour-time, because it costs more to produce one unit of said time. But, I’m getting off track – the real question is, do we think the subsistence wage going up is a good thing? Do we think it’s more important than various disruptions of services?

If you subscribe to the difference principle, then you’re tied to the moral demand that the subsistence wage needs to go up as high as is technically possible.

I actually quite like Rawls if you change the meaning of “least well off” to “least well off employed” – maximizing the living standards of the unemployed seems like a bad principle to organize morality around.

Tristan January 16, 2009 at 4:16 pm

There is certainly a divergent view about the relationship between monopolies and anti trust legislation. There is quite a good discussion from the early 80’s about this issue here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8C4gRRk2i-M&feature=PlayList&p=6C3C63861EA8A056&playnext=1&index=53

Matt January 16, 2009 at 8:04 pm

This discussion has departed from the original topic of the OC Transpo strike to vague academic arguments about the working class, unions, subsitence wages, etc. The fact is that a bunch of people in Ottawa are being screwed over by lack of public transportation. There doesn’t appear to be any end in sight, and now there is talk of bringing in a fact finder to study the issue of Crew Scheduling. I’d say the unions and gov’t in this case are virtually the same, huge bloated corrupt entities claiming to be working for the people but doing otherwise. Enormous mounds of inefficiency.

Tristan January 16, 2009 at 10:38 pm

I’d tend to agree with Matt – if we didn’t have state run public transit (but instead private operators eligible for subsidies in accord with the positive externalities of transit), we could have competition and strikes without this kind of blockade. Basically I agree with the diagnosis that the union and the employer are both too strong, not in a position to lose enough from a long strike. But I’d say the solution isn’t to break up the existing company, just let other companies enter the market by taking away OC’s artificial monopoly. This would be very simple to do – figure out what the positive externality of running busses is, and offer it to any company willing to start running buses, proportional to how much service they offer.

It was said earlier that “in the old days” the monopoly telephone companies charged exorbitant long distance – you’re right – but only because they were granted government monopolies because they argued it would make them more efficient (we’ve seen the same with internet carriers). When the Bell patents ran out in the 19th century 2000 competing phone companies quickly arose. We should be careful not to assume that anti-trust legislation is effective at curbing monopoly market failures when those monopolies are only existent in the first place because of state protection of monopolies.

Milan January 19, 2009 at 12:11 pm

This would be very simple to do – figure out what the positive externality of running busses is, and offer it to any company willing to start running buses, proportional to how much service they offer.

I am not sure if this would be so easy. To begin with, there are issues of coordination. You want bus routes and timetables to link up in coordinated ways. Then, there are issues of scale. A company buying 100 buses is in a better position to get a deal than a company buying 5. There are also labour issues: the most efficient solution would be a big pool of drivers with no control over their own scheduling (though the workers wouldn’t like it). Regardless of the type of scheduling system used, smaller companies would have less flexibility.

If the only problem to be solved here is the issue of striking, it seems easiest to tackle it directly, rather than create a fragmented bus system. That being said, this position could be tested by offering identical subsidy packages to OC Transpo and any other firm, then seeing whether competitors actually emerge.

Milan January 19, 2009 at 12:15 pm

In addition, I think there is a lot of ‘soft’ corruption in public transit. For instance, in the relationships between a city government, the federal government, unions, and the Canadian companies that build tracks and trains and buses.

Building a transit system gives you many opportunities to give and earn political favours. I doubt governments would be too willing to abandon that in favour of a transparent system of subsidies.

Woodsy January 23, 2009 at 4:07 pm

I did not see this post of yours until you mentioned it today on XUP’s post, so I guess we have a case of parallel thinking…

Tristan January 23, 2009 at 4:51 pm

“There are also labour issues: the most efficient solution would be a big pool of drivers with no control over their own scheduling (though the workers wouldn’t like it). ”

I don’t dispute this, but the fact you point it out expresses a difference between our positions. It seems that you begin with the assumed goal of “most efficient system”, whereas I begin with “system in which people acting according to their interest produces fair outcomes for others”. I think preserving liberty is more important than overall efficiency. One very important liberty to protect is freedom of association – so this means setting up a system in which unions can have bargaining positions that are strong without being so strong as to produce long strikes. In other words, be rid of government protected monopolies. Whether the fairest solution is “most efficient” is a lot less important, I believe, than the people in the solution can act with liberty without producing situations where their interest contradicts so blatantly and for so long as monopoly situation strikes do.

Increasingly ticked January 27, 2009 at 10:57 am

Is there any legal way that Ottawa residents can punish OC transpo drivers for this strike, either now or when it ends?

Can we picket their homes, reduce their future career prospects, or something like that? Something more or less equivalent to having to deal with a new baby and no car for two months of Ottawa winter.

. January 28, 2009 at 6:24 pm

Feds poised to legislate end to Ottawa transit strike
By Meagan Fitzpatrick, Canwest News ServiceJanuary 28, 2009 6:01 PM

OTTAWA — Federal Labour Minister Rona Ambrose said Wednesday she is prepared to legislate an end to Ottawa’s 50-day transit strike.

“I’m prepared to act at this time. I’m prepared to introduce back-to-work legislation,” Ambrose told reporters following question period Wednesday afternoon.

The labour minister said talks between the city of Ottawa, which owns and operates OC Transpo, and the union broke off Tuesday, and that the federal government has an obligation to act because both sides are showing little flexibility or compromise to reach an agreement.

Tristan January 28, 2009 at 7:45 pm

What’s interesting about this conflict is that it exposes two things about the bargaining process. There is little incentive for either the employer or the union to compromise – neither loses much from being on strike.

It would seem wrong to absorb all the costs of the strike into either side, but, logical that some kind of incentive structure be set up to penalize both sides equivalently for the length of the strike. Unfortunately, this would be very complicated and almost certainly benefit the employer more than the Union.

The obvious way to impose the incentive structure would be by exponential growth – say some kind of audited financial penalty to the OC Management and the OC Union Executive of 1% per day. So, first day they lose 1%, 2nd day 2%, 3rd day 4% etc…

It would make it extremely difficult for a strike to continue for more than, say, 8 days.

Milan January 28, 2009 at 8:44 pm

Perhaps someone could publish a list of union and city officials, so Ottawa businesses that suffered in the strike can know not to hire them in the future.

Tristan January 28, 2009 at 8:54 pm

Maybe, but that’s just retributive justice – something that’s basically uncivilized and largely abandoned in the shift away from tribal law to state law.

Milan January 28, 2009 at 9:08 pm

Lots of employers will look kindly on volunteer work on your resume. It’s evidence that you care about the welfare of the general public. This strike seems to prove that the negotiators do not care about the public. As such, it seems reasonably fair that employers should punish them for it.

Tristan January 28, 2009 at 9:20 pm

Again, it was never the negotiators job as individuals to care about the general public – although it could be argued that it was insofar as they were part of a negotiation. It’s like a common pool resource failure – you can only take up your obligation to the public if the opposing negotiator does the same. I suppose most would say it’s more like Game theory.

Milan January 28, 2009 at 9:23 pm

There is aesthetic appeal in allowing the community to inflict moderate harm on members who have shown indifference to the welfare of the group overall, but I agree that it is not especially practical. It may also be unfair to lone individuals who did seek a settlement that was fair for all parties (including the semi-unrepresented public).

In the end, I think the lesson is still the inappropriateness of unions in the public sector, and the desirability of scaling them back.

oleh January 28, 2009 at 11:22 pm

“The obvious way to impose the incentive structure would be by exponential growth – say some kind of audited financial penalty to the OC Management and the OC Union Executive of 1% per day. So, first day they lose 1%, 2nd day 2%, 3rd day 4% etc…It would make it extremely difficult for a strike to continue for more than, say, 8 days.”

Tristan, this is an interesting idea. I wonder if cloistered executives are out of touch with their constituencies and your idea would shake them up. Ottawa is at approximately day 50 of the strike and that would be 42 days longer than under your model.

Tristan, would you consider the Ottawa transportation strike situation as an example of failure of the current model?

Tristan January 29, 2009 at 1:05 am

Oleh,

Of course. It’s possible that it makes sense that some strikes should last this long, but certainly on in the private sector. I think the simple test is to imagine how long this strike would last if there were competing transit systems in Ottawa – not very long because the employer would have a huge incentive to settle quickly (not to lose ridership share), and so would the union (not to lose jobs as a result of ridership share loss). This wouldn’t obviously be an anti-union solution, because the best drivers would presumably want to work for the company with the best union contract, and all the providers would want the best employees since transit riders hate bad bus drivers.

oleh January 29, 2009 at 8:44 am

Tristan,

From your response I gather that you see a difference between public sector services, where essential services are provided, and private sector services, where the market governs. It seems your contributions to date in this discussion are more relevant to the private sector situation and do not apply to the transit strike.

Public Transit services are essential services heavily subsidized by the public through taxes. Hence the adjective public. Much of this public contribution is not by way of ongoing subsidies but in the costs of capital construction. An example is the $2 billion investment in the Canada Line (rapid transit system) in Richmond and Vancouver.

Therefore in a public transit strike , the contributing public is a major contributing stakeholder and yet is not directly at the bargaining table.

Therefore when the service is not provided, the public interest is not served unless there is a limit the right to strike in some fashion. I believe this was Milan’s starting point in this discussion.

So where you and Milan differed was that he was talking about situations relating to a public service and you were not. However, this discussion is about public transit and a situation in the public sector. Therefore, your analysis would not seem to apply.

I believe through taxes we should continue to subsidize public transit for various social, environmental and economic reasons. I am about to board a bus and then Skytrain (rapid transit) to a doctor’s appointment in Surrey for another public service, a doctor’s appointment. This is a distance of about 30 kilometers. In our public transit system, the cost to me as a rider is $3.25. The bus driver will be well paid, working in good conditions and secure in his job. It will be safe and convenient. Competing private transit systems could not get there. They may decide not even to serve the relatively isolated locations.

On CBC’s news show “As It Happens” I heard of a 60 year old immigrant woman in Ottawa who walks 18 kilometers in each direction in freezing conditions to her job of stocking grocery shelves (probably minimum wage). It takes her 5 hours in each direction. She does this so she can keep her private sector job. The public sector strike has certainly caused her considerable hardship. I would not want to be in her shoes.

Therefore in the case of essential public services subsidized by the public, limiting the right to strike can make sense.

Tristan January 29, 2009 at 9:06 am

Oleh,

“Public Transit services are essential services heavily subsidized by the public through taxes”

I mean, of course this is true – but the interesting question is why, why do we subsidize public transit? It’s not because we like the poor or hate global warming or any nice reasons, I think the reason mostly is simply the massive economic benefit of having a public transit system – Toronto did not build a subway until it became virtually impossible to drive downtown. In other words, we subsidize public transit because of the massive positive externalities. We can even measure this, and we do it so we can say how much the city is loosing every day the TTC goes on strike. Of course, the flip side of this is the TTC union can use the total amount, divide it by the number of employees, and ask “How can you say our employees are overpaid when the benefit they create for the city is many times their actual wage”.

In other words – if we believed that people should be paid, through market equilibrium, the amount of value that they add to the market, then denying the right to strike to essential services is absolutely out of the question. I am maybe the idiot here, but it seems that if the market produces that kind of an equilibrium, it is the granting of a state monopoly which prevents the workers from using their power to strike to extract their marginal benefit to the employer from the employer.

Magictofu January 29, 2009 at 9:34 am

Tristan, I think you are confusing the marxist plus-value concept (and possibly even adding the idea of economic multiplicator if I read between the lines) with economic equilibirum. I am not sure I follow your logic here.

Milan January 29, 2009 at 10:28 am

In other words – if we believed that people should be paid, through market equilibrium, the amount of value that they add to the market

I certainly don’t believe this. People should be paid the least amount someone equally qualified would accept to do the job. The spread between what people are paid and the value they provide is the whole reason any organization has employees. If an employer paid employees exactly the value they added, the employer would have no money for anything else (including mandatory taxes paid because of employing that person).

. January 29, 2009 at 10:59 am

It’s bus-ness time
Creating transit-oriented communities addresses many different issues
Posted by Sarah van Schagen at 9:31 PM on 28 Jan 2009

“Last November, Seattle-area voters gave a resounding shout-out to mass transit. Building on that support, a new bill in Washington state focuses on sustainable development near transit stations. This “Creating Transit Communities” legislation calls for dense, walkable communities in transit hot-spots.

It would provide local jurisdictions with resources and incentives for sustainable growth and strengthen existing provisions about making low-income housing available near transit centers.”

Tristan January 29, 2009 at 4:14 pm

“People should be paid the least amount someone equally qualified would accept to do the job.”

You absolutely can’t believe this given any sphere of conditions. This is possibly just only in a situation of no or acceptable coercion. Conditions of liberty need to exist in order for something like this to be a just principle – and conditions of liberty include liberty to association, which includes the right to strike. If you want to limit it, you need a reason why we should be less free than we could be. Rawls’ liberty and difference principle are, I think, the only reasonable liberal framework for sorting out that difficult problem.

Milan January 29, 2009 at 4:23 pm

Above, you seemingly agreed that public sector unions have too much power. A natural extension of that thought is saying that their power should be curbed. Given that public sector jobs exist for the benefit of the population as a whole, it seems most appropriate to forbid union membership for those who occupy these positions.

No rights in Canada are absolute, and it is recognized that accepting a job means taking on responsibilities. In the case of public sector workers, both their responsibilities and the limited nature of ‘rights’ in Canada speak to the importance of reducing union power.

There is also a decent case to be made that forbidding public sector unions (a) increases the overall welfare and liberty of society and (b) helps the least fortunate. After all, the worst off in society are most dependent on public services. Those with government jobs are a lot better off, on average.

Milan January 29, 2009 at 4:25 pm

Back here, you implied that the only reason for which public sector unions should not be restricted is that they are too politically influential. Presumably your ‘absolute dictator’ would restrict union power in a way akin to what I am proposing.

Tristan January 29, 2009 at 4:30 pm

“If an employer paid employees exactly the value they added, the employer would have no money for anything else (including mandatory taxes paid because of employing that person).”

This is both ridiculous, and telling. Of course if you allocated to each person exactly what they benefited to you, that allocation would only go partially to that person and partly to taxes – to say other wise is just to make a straw man. However, it’s interesting that if you paid employees (in this sense of pay, which includes any kind of taxes) and the cost of equipment was identical to the benefit it gave you, you are right, there would be nothing left for profit.

This is exactly why there has to be one commodity from which you extract more value than you pay for it, and except in a situation of a resource based economy where you are essentially stealing resources from the state because legislation allows you to take valuable things out of the ground without paying the full cost, that commodity has to be labour. (In other words, you might be able to pay labour the value it was gaining for you if you were essentially “stealing” the raw materials – to determine this you’d need to go into the technicalities of the states’ oppertunity cost of granting you a permit to extract materials at some price).

Milan January 29, 2009 at 4:40 pm

The whole point of employment (as opposed to self-employment) is recognizing that some other individual or organization can make better use of your labour than you can yourself. Choosing to be employed thus increases your welfare over not being employed. At the same time, the profits the employer is able to produce as a result of your efforts constitute their motivation for being an employer in the first place.

Prices, including the price of labour, arise from the willingness of people to pay.

Incidentally, there are numerous expenses beyond wages, taxes, and equipment that employers must deal with. One implicit tax is all the paperwork involved in establishing and operating a business, as well as conforming to standards.

This is exactly why there has to be one commodity from which you extract more value than you pay for it, and except in a situation of a resource based economy where you are essentially stealing resources from the state because legislation allows you to take valuable things out of the ground without paying the full cost, that commodity has to be labour.

The decision to buy a commodity rests fundamentally on the belief that you will derive more value from it than you would from some other use of the money. This applies equally to labour, land, physical commodities, and other factors of production and enjoyment. Labour is not a special case here – seen as a factor of production, it differs little from electricity.

Tristan January 29, 2009 at 4:59 pm

“Presumably your ‘absolute dictator’ would restrict union power in a way akin to what I am proposing.”

Sure, the dictator would just say what the appropriate collective agreement would be, and it would be law, and it would be right. I mean, actually, to be a proper Hegelian, the dictator actually doesn’t say anything because the bureaucracy figures it out, but he needs to veto it if it isn’t universal right.

But no one goes along with me anymore believing that there can be such a neutral position of decision, one not subject to some interests over others, one whose will is just universal right. Also, you couldn’t just instate this – you’d need to train people form birth to think and act this way, and no one seriously thinks its possible. The alternative, kind of british, common law, neither nihilism nor absolutism, emphasizes fair procedure. So, I guess we should have that. Legislating a strike back to work is the opposite of fair procedure – it’s siding entirely with one over the other in a decree by fiat. Of course, you need to do something when negotiations break down, but there is no obvious reason why intervention should be in favour of one party or the other – the most neutral thing (although for obvious reasons, it wouldn’t be neutral), would be to pick the exact middle point between the two proposals. But, this is obviously a joke.

Milan January 29, 2009 at 5:06 pm

It still seems as though the major point of agreement in this conversation is that, in one way or another and to one extent or another, the power of public sector unions should be reduced.

Tristan January 29, 2009 at 5:49 pm

I don’t agree with that – I think the right to collective bargaining should be protected as the Supreme Court has defined it to fall under the charter as a limited right. The Supreme Court (Bill 29) has set out a pretty clear structure about what kinds of conditions under which we can say collective bargaining has broken down and the state can intervene.

Milan January 29, 2009 at 7:18 pm

So you don’t think there is any legitimate distinction between public and private sector unions, as far as the right to strike goes?

Magictofu January 29, 2009 at 9:43 pm

There is a difference between the right of association, the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike.

Magictofu January 29, 2009 at 10:05 pm

And to get back to the confusion about the right amount en employee should be paid, I see the old plus-value vs. economic equilibrium debate emerging here. I feel it is a false debate, and here’s why:

On the micro-scale, employees might feel that they should obtain a better share of the plus-value that they contribute to produce and in the absence of competition from other workers (scabs) or other firms willing to provide the same service or product, they might be able to get exactly that from their employer if they are aggressive enough. To reach such situations, workers need to be in a situation of monopoly… and along with a strong negotiating position, it provides them with security. Unions are sometimes creating situations resembling this situation but never entirely achieving it.

However, on a larger scale, an economy will be much better if, as Milan said: “People should be paid the least amount someone equally qualified would accept to do the job” because it will produce more (products and services) with less investment (in time and capital). This is good for everyone since people have more choices, goods and services… however, job security is non-existent and long term planning is almost impossible for anyone.

We do not live in either of these abstract world. Ours share elements of both these ideal types along with what we call “second best” solutions. The idea here, I believe, is not to try to reach either of these fantasy worlds (this is what I would call an ideological position) but to continue adapting our society to reach some kind of middle ground benefits.

Limiting the right to strike for the public sector and monopolistic sectors of the economy could be one of these “second best” option. In the case of the OC Transpo drivers, we could simply force them to offer a minimal service along certain corridors while letting them picket OC Transpo offices, refuse to enforce payment by passengers, etc.

Tristan January 30, 2009 at 12:26 am

Magic Tofu,

You didn’t take into account conditions of domination as prior to a situation in which people make labour choices. This is enough reason to dismiss any analysis out of hand. Conditions of domination need to be justified in the first place, not assumed. Again, Rawls gives probably the only convincing response to this demand while remaining within the Liberal framework.

Milan January 30, 2009 at 8:57 am

In case anyone missed the last ‘update’ above, the matter of this particular strike is now moot. The city and union agreed to something when threatened with back-to-work legislation.

I haven’t yet seen the details of what they agreed to.

. January 30, 2009 at 9:06 am

Bus deal reached in Ottawa
By DEREK PUDDICOMBE, CITY HALL BUREAU
The Ottawa Sun

“The city and striking union reached a tentative agreement yesterday to have all outstanding issues put to binding arbitration, including driver scheduling, which has been the most contentious issue.

City council is expected to ratify the deal this morning. It’s not yet known when the union will vote to ratify.”

Tristan January 30, 2009 at 10:24 am

Magic Tofu,

The dichotomy you propose between the “micro scale” and the “economy at large” is just class struggle. The “second best” solution is something like doing what’s politically possible to keep unions down, i.e. BC’s bill 29 which attempted to break union power in the health sector. The “actual best” solution is something like upholding the right to free association along the lines that the supreme court (by chance probably) seems to have gotten right. Well, except that the actual best solution would be the democratization of all institutions, where as now Unions are about the only institutions I know of that can properly called democratic.

Milan January 30, 2009 at 10:34 am

This account, at least, makes unions seem not only undemocratic, but positively thuggish:

“Our union calls a strike almost every time contracts need to be re-negotiated. Nobody asks us if we want a strike. Nobody asks us if we’re willing to accept the offer put on the table by our employer. We strike for a while, get legislated back to work and nothing changes. And the union has the balls to tell us we’d better show up on the picket lines “or else”.

And they’re pretty ugly about it. Threats are made. Scrawled notes are left on our desks. Phone calls are made to our homes. Thuggish union types stop you in the hall and tell you what will happen to you if you don’t picket – everything from facing a law suit, to having our homes picketed to veiled, “you better hope we don’t see you out walking on your own some night” physical threats.”

Thankfully, I have yet to interact in any meaningful way with my union – aside from the mandatory dues. If they go on strike, I will probably opt to cross the picket lines.

. January 30, 2009 at 11:07 am

Ottawa residents, transit drivers rejoice over end of strike
Last Updated: Friday, January 30, 2009 | 10:07 AM ET
CBC News

“The end of Ottawa’s 51-day bus strike had commuters and transit workers celebrating Friday.

Officials from the City of Ottawa and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279 announced late Thursday afternoon that they had reached a tentative deal to send all outstanding contract issues to arbitration, with no preconditions. But it could be a week before some transit services are running and months before they are back up to full service.”

Milan January 30, 2009 at 4:37 pm

It looks like bus service won’t really be back for a while:

“OC Transpo general manager Alain Mercier told city council on Friday that the first buses would be back on the roads on Feb. 9. At that point, about 460 to 570 buses — up to 60 per cent of the fleet — would be back on the road, mainly on downtown routes. Outside peak hours, OC Transpo would hopefully be able to provide close to full service for those routes, Mercier added.

He didn’t expect local and express service in the suburbs to be back until April. However, he said after boosting maintenance capacity, OC Transpo anticipates a return to full service in nine to 10 weeks rather than the 12 to 14 predicted earlier.”

Magictofu February 1, 2009 at 8:47 pm

Tristan, sorry if I wasn’t clear, I am suggesting that there is a false dichotomy and that we should be careful to avoid the pitfalls of theory and ideology.

In my understanding, having unions is one of those “second best” arrangements that makes the kind of world we live in. Legislating unions, as they already are, and adapting our legislations one way or the other are all socio-political arrangements that we are doing in the hope of making our societies work better. That was the essence of what I was trying to say.

oleh February 2, 2009 at 12:17 am

“Officials from the City of Ottawa and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279 announced late Thursday afternoon that they had reached a tentative deal to send all outstanding contract issues to arbitration, with no preconditions. But it could be a week before some transit services are running and months before they are back up to full service.”

Why does it takes so long (until Feb 9) to get some transit services going and months before it is up to full service?

What is preventing a quicker return and resumption or partial and then full service?

Tristan February 2, 2009 at 12:33 am

Oleh,

I can’t be sure – but I think it has something to do with the busses having been mothballed during the strike, since the maintenance staff could not keep them in running order. When an engine hasn’t been run for a period of time (how long depends on what kind of engine), various precautions need to be taken before starting it again. I know in the case of outboard motors that a motor that has not been run in several years needs to have the heads and crank removed so that it can be internally lubricated to prevent potential scoring when starting. I didn’t think this kind of problem would affect diesel buses, (I thought it was mostly a problem for 2-stroke engines), but it might be that constant-duty motors (built to run 14 hours a day, everyday, for 40 years) have different tolerances and different sorts of oil delivery systems than a conventional truck diesel engine.

Tristan February 2, 2009 at 2:21 pm

“This account, at least, makes unions seem not only undemocratic, but positively thuggish:”

These is no evidence that anything said in this account is true. It’s just a first person account from a person with no name, no stated affiliations, no peer editing, in other words, no reprimand at all if they are caught dispensing false information.

Tristan February 2, 2009 at 2:27 pm

Employees need leverage to oppose the 2% tax which is imposed every year called “inflation”. If nominal wages remained the same, there would be a real-wages pay cut of 50% every 45 years – just do the math.

Magictofu February 2, 2009 at 3:42 pm

Tristan, would you consider normal and even desirable a certain level of fluctuation over the years in real wages? Demand and offer for specific types of labor change over time, union and collective bargaining in general can certainly prevent the worst spikes and drops in such market but can it / should it prevent long term adjustments?

Tristan February 2, 2009 at 3:46 pm

Do you think it’s good if over the long term, real wages decrease – on average? Do you think something like the immense difference in wealth between the rich and poor now is something we should sustain? You can’t even argue for something like this, it’s just absurd.

Milan February 2, 2009 at 4:11 pm

I think it is fair to say that unions are not always democratic, and probably fair to say that internal democracy is not a fundamental property of unions. They can behave in counter-democratic ways, and they can certainly act in ways that are contrary to the specific interests of individual members.

As for inflation, I do think it is important that there be a mechanism for wages in some sectors to fall. There will always be antiquated components of the economy where relative decline is both inevitable and efficient. Moderate levels of inflation can be one mechanism through which that occurs.

Sometimes, it may even be important for wages to decline through an economy as a whole. Labour is just another factor of production, when considered from an economic perspective. If the returns to other factors (say land or capital) rise in relative terms, the value of labour can be expected to fall.

Tristan February 2, 2009 at 7:17 pm

Unions may not always be democratic, but they are as far as I know, the only institutions we have that are democratic in the participatory sense at all. What other institutions allow a group of people to discuss what their interests are and then act on them? You yourself have told me that party politics is a joke, that it is not a structure for people to get involved in. If democracy is just about the elite asking the public which bit of them should have power every four years, then democracy is only about advertising, not involvement – treating people as consumers rather than citizens. “Representative” democracy is a failure, participatory democracy is a possible success – and unions are an example of it being attempted.

If you think inflation is so great, why don’t we vote on it? It’s an un-democratic tax. Until it’s part of the budget and passed in the house, it remains unapologetic theft.

Milan February 2, 2009 at 8:05 pm

Lots of small organizations are democratic, from university clubs to agricultural communes. As long as there aren’t that many people involved, direct democracy is workable. With much larger groups, implementing democracy is obviously more difficult.

Unions don’t even strike me as an especially good example of a relatively small organization with strong democratic credentials. The fact that Canadians are forced to pay union dues, whether they wish to be part of the union at their workplace or not, is one example of an undemocratic element of union organization.

As for inflation, we implicitly vote for a positive inflation target when we support governments that in turn support a Bank of Canada that operates in its current way.

Magictofu February 2, 2009 at 8:56 pm

I don’t follow you Tristan. Since the seventies, pretty much all central banks try to keep inflation at relatively low levels and I don’t see how you can claim that it is a tax in disguise since governments do not benefit from it other than through very long term changes to the debt to revenue ratio.

We all live in a world of finite resources and as far as I am aware most of recent inflation has been driven by price increases in energy as well as in housing in regions and cities that are attracting the most people (fast population increase creating housing shortage and speculation). Given limited resources and population growth, one would assume that inflation is a normal aspect of our economies or at least should be.

Also, if workers get pay increases at levels higher than inflation, it automatically creates more inflation. This means that if a group of workers is in a favorable bargaining position, like the OC Transpo drivers who can penalize a third party or farm workers who can strike at time sensitive moments such as the harvest season, they should, at least theoretically, be able to obtain pay increases at rates higher than inflation (at least in the labor market, i.e. compared to other workers). If we push this rationale even further and if we accept your claim that inflation is theft, this means that this group of workers are actually robbing workers who are in less advantageous positions (i.e. in non-monopolistic sectors).

Now lets push this even further: if inflation is caused by population increases or by resource scarcity, workers who ask for pay increases at rates higher than inflation will simply add to the existing inflation and won’t doubly penalize those who cannot obtain such increases… and if everyone was able to obtain the same pay increase, everyone would still suffer from the inflation created by population pressures and resource scarcity since this inflation would simply adjust to the higher incomes regardless.

Tristan February 2, 2009 at 9:40 pm

“Also, if workers get pay increases at levels higher than inflation, it automatically creates more inflation. ”

No, that’s not how inflation is ‘created’. As usual, we have the effect-for-cause fallacy here. You really think reducing the divide between the rich and the poor causes inflation? Wow. Looks like American 1970’s anti-union propaganda worked on you.

It’s pretty depressing that people who work for the state don’t know what causes inflation. Inflation is caused by increasing the money supply with respect to the size of the real economy. Central banks do set inflation, but it’s a mistake to think they ‘control’ it, as if it would do anything without their say so. If they wanted to set it at zero, it would be exactly as simple as printing 2% less new currency. In reality, it’s a bit more complicated than that because we have a fractional reserve system (at 10%, it means there is about 9 times as much money in deposits than there is in bills), but the principle remains the same (although, for obvious reasons – instability goes up). But of course, we couldn’t have a full-reserve system or the banks couldn’t make any money. Even though it would build huge stability into the system (i.e. there could never be a bank-run, because everyone’s money would actually be there, which would in turn get rid of any point to running the bank).

Inflation, even at these moderate rates, is hugely beneficial to big business for the reasons Milan keeps pointing out – it allows wages to go down more easily, something about ‘market equilibrium’. Increased standard of living is bad for profits (although, not necessarily bad for productivity, but that doesn’t matter).

Milan February 2, 2009 at 11:04 pm

A bit of inflation is psychologically important, given how averse people are to perceived losses: whether those are of wealth or status. Inflation facilitates the white lie that someone’s wages are increasing, when they may be stagnant or decreasing. Given all the depression and strife associated with the perception of decline, that may be sufficient in itself to justify a positive inflation target.

There will probably be fewer strikes and suicides in a country with 2% annual inflation than in one with stable prices.

Milan February 2, 2009 at 11:07 pm

Inflation is also useful from a monetary policy perspective, since it allows central banks to set interest rates at levels that are effectively negative.

If you think central banks should play a role in reducing the length and severity of recessions, that is arguably an important justification of low, stable, but non-zero inflation.

Tristan February 2, 2009 at 11:25 pm

Again,

If you think inflation is so fantastic, and you admit it’s a tax, why doesn’t it need to be passed in the house – like all other taxes.

Milan February 2, 2009 at 11:36 pm

Politicians have recognized that they cannot be trusted to set monetary policy. There is too much temptation to use it to manipulate election outcomes. As such, the best option is to put it in the hands of a central bank. The broad principles to be followed are established in law, but the actual operation is at arm’s length.

None of this is secret or complicated.

Given your contempt for political parties, do you think Parliament would actually do a better job of running monetary policy from day to day?

Milan February 2, 2009 at 11:38 pm

Equating inflation 100% with a tax isn’t accurate. You are using ‘tax’ in the same loose sense as you use ‘theft.’

Unlike taxes, inflation cannot be instantly altered by fiat. Unlike taxes, inflation is affected by the prices of certain inputs and levels of elasticity.

Inflation is a unique and important phenomenon that whole government institutions are established to study and deal with. Calling it a ‘tax’ and leaving it at that is misleading.

Tristan February 2, 2009 at 11:43 pm

I don’t hate political parties, I just think they, and the system they participate in, are totally undemocratic – i.e. when I was in the legislature on Friday an MLA was laughed at for bringing up the concerns of her constituents. Also, all the debate in the legislature is a continuous series of ad hominum attacks – if anything like that happened in a scholarly debate, or a debate club event, or a debate in a high school class, it would be considered totally unacceptable. Things literally are rotten at the top.

But, certainly political parties might do good things.

Do I think politicians should run monetary policy? I think the U.S. constitution does a relatively good job of dealing with this problem – only the government shall coin money and all money shall be commodity. You can’t over print a commodity money supply because it costs exactly as much to produce one unit of it as one unit of it is worth. Leave the money up to the market if the politicians can’t handle it, rather than create a branch of government which is in practice accountable to no one to take care of the most important thing in society.

Milan February 2, 2009 at 11:50 pm

I have agreed before that the Canadian political system only allows a tiny amount of information exchange between the population and the government. I think it would probably be better to have a system more like the one in the US, where there are at least separate elections for the executive leader and the legislators.

Tristan February 3, 2009 at 9:29 am

Milan,

You often assert this position: “Politicians have recognized that they cannot be trusted to set monetary policy. There is too much temptation to use it to manipulate election outcomes.”

Do you have evidence to support this? Because, if you just want to point to all the horribly devalued 3rd world currencies – that’s mostly because of conditions on IMF and World Bank loans. The U.S. did not have a central bank between 1867 and 1913, and Greenspan still thinks that was the best period of U.S. monetary policy.

“inflation cannot be instantly altered by fiat.”

This is true, but it can be altered by fiat non-instantly. For example, the policies of devaluation required as a loan condition by the World Bank and the IMF, especially during the 1980s debt crises, these are effectively taxes imposed by fiat without the same kind of political assent required for normal taxation.

I never equated taxes with theft – I equate taxation without representation with theft. There is a long tradition, (it’s called democracy), of opposing unjustified (justification here is understood as an activity, something you do, not the theoretical ‘it could be justified’) taxation.

Magictofu February 3, 2009 at 9:43 am

Tristan, before you accuse me and everyone else not to understand how inflation works, have a look at the diverse determinants influencing inflation, you’ll notice that yes money supply matter but that other factors are as important, what drove the inflation up last year was essentially an increase in energy prices. You will also notice that wages tend to have an impact on the money supply as well. I suggest that you google “wage spriral” to see an interesting bit of theory on the subject.

And by the way central banks are not setting inflation rates, they merely try to push them in one direction or the other and they do not always succeed.

Tristan February 3, 2009 at 10:15 am

Banks ‘set’ inflation rates by adjusting the rate of increase of Mzero. Of course there is much contingency – but overall, the contingency evens out (otherwise, economics would be impossible – if the contingencies could not be statistically macro-stabilized).

To say that the banks, and labour rates, and energy rates, all “cause” inflation is just to mistake effects for causes – or rather, to place them both in the sphere of causes when some are effects.

What is an increase in energy prices? This is not an obvious question actually. A true increase in energy prices would mean the price of energy goes up relative to other goods, whose relative price goes down. If all is held equal this will not cause inflation – people will spend more on energy and less on something else. It will only appear to cause inflation if the amount of money being spent goes up. And the amount of money is equal to Mzero times the multiplier, which is directly controlled by the central bank.

Magictofu February 3, 2009 at 11:18 am

Tristan, if the price of energy goes up, the price of everything produced using energy will go up as well. When measuring inflation, you take a basket of goods and services and calculate its value at different intervals… if the cost of that basket increases over time, because of an increase in energy prices for instance, inflation goes up and people experience a decline in their purchasing power.

The oil shocks of the seventies created very high levels of inflation which were barely kept under control by the efforts of central banks and governments combined.

As for M zero, it is only a small part of the total money supply.

Milan February 3, 2009 at 11:48 am

Loosening and tightening bank lending could also affect inflation. For instance, the migration to the Basel II system.

If banks find they need to hold lesser reserves, it makes sense that their increased lending would produce increased spending and eventually an increase in prices. Higher reserve ratio requirements could have the opposite effect.

. February 3, 2009 at 4:16 pm

From the Bottom Up
By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian, 3rd February 2009

“For the first time in my life I resent paying my taxes. Until now I have seen this annual amputation as a civic duty – like giving blood – necessary to sustain the life of a fair society. Suddenly I see it as an imposition. Its purpose has reverted to that of the middle ages: subsidising the excesses of a parasitic class. A high proportion of the taxes I pay will be used to bail out companies which, as the Guardian’s current investigation shows, have used every imaginable ruse to avoid paying any themselves.

Now almost everyone I speak to says the same thing – “what’s the point? They’re all as bad as each other” – and I can find no argument to refute it. Had their forebears been told that, 125 years after the first agricultural workers got the vote, the poor would be bailing out the rich and (thanks to the first-past-the-post system) the votes of only a few thousand citizens would count, I doubt they would have bothered.”

Tristan February 3, 2009 at 5:22 pm

MagicTofu,

There’s no point debating this. You’re talking about measuring the effects of inflation, and I’m talking about what causes inflation.

Mzero, if I understand correctly, is the amount of pieces of money in circulation. Because of fractional reserve lending, Mone is much higher. But it is entirely based on Mzero. So to say Mzero is small part of the money supply is true in a certain sense – but how big would the money supply be if Mzero was zero?

Tristan February 3, 2009 at 5:25 pm

Milan,

Of course you are correct – the money supply is controlled by both the size of Mzero and controlling the reserve ratios, and by controlling the overnight lending rate.

I didn’t realize this, but China only currently holds about 800 billion in US treasuries. Asking them to buy another 900 billion will be a big ask. I’m betting they will print a large portion of the money. And remember – printing money to pay debt means increasing Mzero.

Milan February 3, 2009 at 5:29 pm

In theory, can monopolists influence inflation? It certainly seems possible.

Imagine, for instance, if there was a monopolistic firm with the sole right to sell oil, gas, and coal. If they chose, they could drive inflation by charging higher prices than a competitive market would. Alternatively, they could choose to subsidize fuels, making prices lower than they would otherwise be. Since energy prices feed through into prices of all other things, the effect could be systemic.

Either choice would affect inflation, without altering the money supply.

. February 3, 2009 at 5:35 pm

“A great deal of economic literature concerns the question of what causes inflation and what effect it has. There are different schools of thought as to what causes inflation. Most can be divided into two broad areas: quality theories of inflation and quantity theories of inflation. Many theories of inflation combine the two. The quality theory of inflation rests on the expectation of a seller accepting currency to be able to exchange that currency at a later time for goods that are desirable as a buyer. The quantity theory of inflation rests on the equation of the money supply, its velocity, and exchanges. Adam Smith and David Hume proposed a quantity theory of inflation for money, and a quality theory of inflation for production.”

Milan February 3, 2009 at 5:50 pm

It seems sensible to note that this thread has wandered wildly off course. There are several possible ways to deal with it:

  1. Keep talking about things largely unrelated to OC Transpo here, confusing future visitors.
  2. Discuss various non-OC Transpo issues below posts more individually related to them.
  3. Establish a forum for discussions not directly related to any of my posts.

In some ways, the last seems most appropriate, though it would also be the most work to implement.

Tristan February 3, 2009 at 6:53 pm

Milan,

Monopolist firms may be able to raise prices on a whole spectrum of goods, but if those goods are inelastic, less will be spent on other goods thus causing lower prices elsewhere in the market.

If monopolist firms can in fact “raise inflation”, then there is nothing a central bank can do anyway to curb it. In fact the central banks printed a lot of money during this period, which did not stop till the Reagan election.

The interesting question is – what would have happened if during the Oil shocks the US had still been on a pre-depression style Gold standard (with better reserve ratios, and better auditing of banks). Presumably, the economy would have radically altered to consume less oil, and developed alternative energy sources. Damn, that would have been horrible. Good thing the U.S. opposes “radical arab nationalism”, i.e. the doctrine that the arab states should strategically limit oil export to maximize benefits to their own populations.

Milan February 3, 2009 at 7:00 pm

Wikipedia suggests that not all economists share your view on the nature and causes of inflation.

Personally, I don’t know enough about economics to judge.

Tristan February 3, 2009 at 8:03 pm

It would be useful if M or G were to comment on the discussion.

Milan February 3, 2009 at 8:09 pm

Another question: Does being a reserve currency:

(a) Increase your ability to control inflation domestically
(b) Diminish your ability to control inflation domestically
(c) Have no effect on your ability to control inflation domestically

when compared with governments with non-reserve currencies?

Milan February 3, 2009 at 8:19 pm

Given the degree to which inflation is tangentially related to the actual topic of this post (which is getting Googled a lot), I propose that we hive off the inflation discussion to this new post.

. March 13, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Transit union asks arbitrator to act immediately on scheduling dispute
By Jake Rupert , The Ottawa CitizenMarch 13, 2009 2:02 PM

OTTAWA — The union representing OC Transpo drivers, mechanics, dispatchers and maintenance workers is asking the federal labour ministry and minister to immediately stop the city’s efforts to impose working condition changes.

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279 says the city’s recent attempts to enforce changes before the matters are dealt with in arbitration and by the federal regulatory process breach the conditions of settlement to the union members’ recent 53-day strike.

Tristan March 13, 2009 at 4:16 pm

That awful union – trying to pursue its interests when they are obviously in contradiction with someone else’s convenience.

. April 22, 2009 at 5:34 pm

Perils Of The Monopolistic Union
November 11th, 2008

Yesterday, I wrote about a pet peeve of mine: when people are anti-corporate but pro-union at the same time, even though unions are corporations. While traditional corporations and labor unions may be structured slightly differently on the surface, they have identical objectives and even go about achieving them the same way.

Tristan April 22, 2009 at 5:42 pm

“While traditional corporations and labor unions may be structured slightly differently on the surface, they have identical objectives and even go about achieving them the same way.”

The objective of a corporation is to maximize shareholder profit. The objective of a union is to maximize the well being of its members.

The structure of a corporation is tyrannical. The structure of a union is always democratic.

. September 1, 2009 at 8:44 am

OT drives transit costs $2M over budget

Push to get buses running after strike fuelled overrun, report says

By Kate Jaimet, The Ottawa CitizenSeptember 1, 2009 6:31 AM

OTTAWA — OC Transpo went nearly $2 million over budget on overtime costs this spring, as mechanics worked to get buses back on the road after the transit strike, according to the quarterly report submitted this week to the transit committee.

The report shows that for the period from April to June, OC Transpo budgeted $4.47 million for overtime, but spent $6.32 million — a cost overrun of $1.85 million.

“The overtime that was given out during that time was to try to fix the buses,” said André Cornellier, president of ATU local 279, which represents 2,300 OC Transpo mechanics, dispatchers and drivers. “They didn’t have enough workers at the time they needed these buses to go out.”

Bay Councillor Alex Cullen, who chairs the transit committee, said during the 53 days when bus drivers and mechanics were on strike, the safety certificates lapsed for many of the buses. This created a backlog of maintenance work that had to be done — and done fast — since the public was clamouring for bus service to resume after the strike ended Jan. 31.

. September 29, 2009 at 8:44 am

My Dear OC Transpo
September 28, 2009 by XUP

After work today, while I was waiting among the sheer madness that is Hurdman Station, I reflected on how delighted you must be that your Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 279 voted in favour of maintaining their right to strike and against agreeing to send all future unresolved contract negotiations directly to third-party arbitration. Almost two-thirds of union members (62.3 per cent) who voted, opted to maintain the current arrangement — even though the last (long, long) strike ended up with you having to go to arbitration anyway.

I understand your need to keep this threat in your back pocket. I understand because I had a long time to reflect on your decision, as people raced back and forth looking for their buses, because the bus I needed to take to get home didn’t show up — not an unusual occurrence.

I see what you people have to put up with every day. I see dozens and dozens of buses darting in an out of the few designated stop areas. Would-be passengers don’t have a clue where exactly their particular bus is going to land, so they dart about, racing from one end of the station to the other until they spot their bus. Often, the potential rider doesn’t make it before you decide to pull the bus away. Idiot passengers run next to the bus and wave and yell. Like that’s going to convince you to stop and let them on. You shrug and drive on. Passengers are so stupid, aren’t they?

Tristan September 29, 2009 at 9:46 am

“Passengers are so stupid, aren’t they?”

Actually, they are. Passengers are “stupid” when it comes to employee-employer relations because they have no interest in the well being of the employees or the employer, unless that well being degraded to the point where service suffered.

This “stupidity” is reflected in passengers attitude towards labour disputes, where they generally couldn’t care less about any issues other than getting the buses running again. This lack of concern allows them to be indoctrinated by the thinnest of anti-union media coverage.

To be very clear: it is not passenger’s “fault” that they are stupid – it is just a result of the place they occupy in the structure. They are as stupid as Ikea shoppers with respect to the working conditions of those who make the lamps and flat pack furniture – nothing about the economic transaction they are involved in leads them to be concerned with the fairness or cruelty which stands behind their purchase as an ignored but unavoidable supplement.

This is of course not a strictly totalizing claim (few serious claims ever are). There are consumers who research working conditions under which their products are made. There are vegetarians. And, there are some bus passengers who know something about democracy and worker’s struggle. But, on balance, they remain the exception.

Milan September 29, 2009 at 10:00 am

I maintain that public sector unions should not have the power to strike. Nor should public sector management be able to lock workers out.

When you work for a private company with competitors, strikes are a legitimate tactic. When you provide a monopoly service to the public, they are not.

. December 10, 2009 at 3:01 pm

Bus strike: One year later, ‘We both didn’t win’

The capital is still recovering from a dispute that took a toll on thousands and cost millions

By Mohammed Adam, The Ottawa Citizen
December 10, 2009

OTTAWA — As Ottawa digs out of its first winter blast, the aftershocks of an earlier storm that virtually shut down the city for nearly eight weeks are still reverberating, with no guarantee it won’t happen again.

It was a year today that 2,300 members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279 launched what would turn out to be a fruitless 53-day strike that would cause untold hardship to residents, cost businesses hundreds of millions of dollars, and resolve nothing. The two sides had to accept binding arbitration, but on this bleak anniversary, they are still squabbling, unable to reach agreement on the details of the central issue of the strike: work scheduling.

Arbitrator M.B. Keller ruled the city had the right to set full-day work schedules, but said this must be done within a 12-hour work day, what the unions call a 12-hour spread. Keller also gave the workers a guaranteed minimum of 7.5 hours of paid work each shift, even though the city wanted six hours.

OC Transpo’s interpretation of how the shifts should unfold has become a tug-of-war between the two sides, and Keller has to play Solomon again. The new work schedules are not expected to be ready until April.

. December 10, 2009 at 3:03 pm

“Despite his hard exterior, Cornellier, in his own inimitable way, may have learned a big lesson about the futility of such strikes. When he ran for re-election in the aftermath of the strike, one of his key campaign planks was to give up the right to strike and the city’s right to lock workers out, in favour of arbitration, when talks fail.”

Tristan December 10, 2009 at 3:05 pm

“Arbitrator M.B. Keller ruled the city had the right to set full-day work schedules, but said this must be done within a 12-hour work day, what the unions call a 12-hour spread. Keller also gave the workers a guaranteed minimum of 7.5 hours of paid work each shift, even though the city wanted six hours.”

What? The bus drivers only get paid for 7.5 hours but have to be available for 12 hours a day?

That is pretty lousy.

Milan December 10, 2009 at 3:08 pm

The most notable thing here seems to be that the head of the union has accepted the argument that neither the drivers not the city should be able to shut down the city’s transit system, as a means of negotiation.

Tristan December 10, 2009 at 3:18 pm

Giving up the right to strike in favour of arbitration is a complicated issue. Arbitration is a fairly open and predicable way of reaching a deal (i.e. it’s not hard to foresee in advance what deal an arbitrator will decide on). Therefore, in any particular labour dispute, it’s very likely that one side will be in favour of arbitration, and the other one opposed. This is why arbitration is not a neutral solution to any particular labour dispute.

For example, the 2008-2009 York strike was entirely within the situation of the administration demanding binding arbitration, and the TAs rejecting it. Compare that to the previous 3903 strike, where it was the union demanding binding arbitration and the employer opposing it.

However, before a dispute happens, hopefully when it’s way off, it’s more difficult to foresee what an arbitrator will decide. At this point, to decide (on both sides), to give up the right to strike/lockout in favour of binding arbitration can be sometimes agreed upon by both parties.

Such an agreement could potentially be quite beneficial to all parties.

. December 16, 2009 at 10:23 am

O’Brien vows lockout to prevent repeat of winter transit strike

Plans to decide over Christmas holiday whether to run in 2010 mayoralty race

By Tom Spears, Dave Rogers and Zev Singer, The Ottawa CitizenDecember 16, 2009 9:53 AM

OTTAWA — Mayor Larry O’Brien is threatening to lock out OC Transpo drivers and mechanics during warm weather the next time they’re without a contract, to prevent a winter transit strike.

“In straight talk to the people in the community, when they are in position to go on strike, we are also in a position to lock out,” the mayor said Tuesday night on Mark Sutcliffe’s public affairs show, Talk Ottawa, on Rogers TV.

He called last winter’s strike “one of the worst experiences I’ve ever been through. And I know it was one of the worst experiences the city went through.

“Just before the strike last summer (in 2008), one of my advisers said: ‘You know, they’re going to go on strike at Christmas’,” he recalled.

“And I said, ‘There’s no way. They (the Amalgamated Transit Union) are negotiating, we’re negotiating. Nobody wants to go on strike.’ ”

But the ATU did strike, for 53 days between December and February. It was 58 days before the first bus service resumed.

. May 10, 2010 at 9:59 am

Even in countries where the governments have kept public-sector wage rises low, strains are showing in other ways. Canada’s federal workers have been told that pay rises of 1.5% this year and next can go ahead as agreed, but that costs will have to be cut to fund them. Unions fear part-time jobs will be axed, adding to the burden on remaining workers and lowering standards. Ontario, the largest province, is imposing a pay freeze, and the city of Montreal is offering less than unions want, though it is open to productivity deals, of the kind that has produced “win-win” solutions to some Canadian disputes.

Canada is one of several rich countries where the public sector is seen by voters as ripe for change after a decade of benign treatment. Ireland, meanwhile, is often cited as a country where public-sector workers have reacted to a sharp downturn with impressive self-denial. In February 2009 they were asked to take a 7% pay cut, and offered only token resistance; this was followed by further reductions in December. A fresh package of reforms (promising no further pay cuts for four years, and holding out the chance that cuts will be reversed) was agreed on March 30th, but union members may yet vote to reject the deal; not all agree with the compliant stance of their leaders.”

. September 1, 2010 at 1:22 pm

A dangerous dynamic at OC Transpo

By David Reevely on bus strike

I’m still technically on vacation till after Labour Day, but at least I’m paying attention again. One thing I want to share a couple of thoughts on, before it gets too stale, is the very serious labour-relations problem at OC Transpo, as evidenced by the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279 vote against a settlement of the ongoing work-scheduling problems there.

The vote was 61 per cent against the deal reached by the union’s negotiators. It’s the second such vote in a year, after the membership also rejected an agreement with management that would have added a no-strike/no-lockout clause to the contract of the transit company’s biggest union, which would have sent intractable bargaining differences to an arbitrator. After having spent much of the 2008-09 strike saying that the whole thing should go to arbitration so everybody could get back to work, the union as a whole rejected that premise for future negotiations.

The dangerous problem I see isn’t that the OC Transpo union members are militant. They were pretty badly put upon at the time of the last strike, by managers who wanted to take away an extremely important element in their contract with apparently no understanding of why it was there in the first place (letting drivers, in particular, have considerable control over their own work schedules was a key move in an effort to detoxify the OC Transpo workplace after the deadly Pierre Lebrun shootings a decade ago). I can see where the militancy comes from, and anyway, tough but skilled managers can deal with a militant union membership in a non-destructive fashion. They did it after the shootings, for example.

. September 13, 2010 at 11:03 am

“There is a diabolical cleverness in his handling of city wages. The collective agreements of the overwhelming majority of city workers are subject to arbitration — if the two sides can’t reach agreement on any particular issue, an arbitrator settles it and there can be no strikes or lockouts. So city council can give the management bargaining team an instruction to offer zero-per-cent wage increases, the union negotiators can laugh at them, and then an arbitrator will decide. No arbitrator is going to freeze City of Ottawa wages when workers in other comparable jobs aren’t dealing with freezes. So fine, O’Brien says, whatever pay hikes we have to contend with will be covered by cuts to staffing and then cuts to the other money the relevant departments spend — which means service cuts. So, unions, what’s it going to be? Wage hikes and layoffs? Wage hikes and you can explain to the people of Ottawa why the library hours are being shortened and the collections budget cut? It’s still the mayor’s and city council’s decision, but if he’s reading the public mood right and Ottawans are collectively dead set against tax increases no matter what, he can redirect a force that acts on city council and make it act on city unions instead.”

. December 26, 2010 at 5:28 pm

In Christie We Trust
House Republicans are ready for war against public sector unions.
By David Weigel
Posted Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2010, at 7:10 PM ET

In two weeks, Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina will become the first chairman of the new House oversight subcommittee on TARP, Financial Services, and Bailouts of Public and Private Programs. In the meantime, he is thinking about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was on 60 Minutes this Sunday talking about the need to cut state spending and trim state employees and their pensions.

“You look at his stuff—and, granted, he puts his good stuff on YouTube—but he is so blunt about what the state’s facing,” says McHenry. “There’s one video I’ve seen where he’s talking to a teacher. And the teacher’s like, ‘We work so hard.’ ” McHenry does his best imitation of the pathos in the teacher’s voice. “Christie says, ‘You know what? You don’t have to do it.’ ”

McHenry sits back, holding out his hands in a “can you believe this?” gesture. “You watch that, and you think—that’s a governor. And that’s a teacher. The teacher always wins, man!”

. December 26, 2010 at 5:30 pm

“If the states aren’t bailed out, they’re going to have to start cutting budgets. If there’s total transparency about pension funds—and voters are already in the mood to shave the benefits and numbers of public workers—then that’s where you can cut. Republicans might even be able to pass legislation that would allow states to declare bankruptcy, which would move the pension debate from politics to court, zapping all of the unions’ leverage. “From the Republican perspective,” wrote Pethokoukis, “the fiscal crisis on the state level provides a golden opportunity to defund a key Democratic interest group.””

. January 30, 2011 at 11:43 pm

The Most Stressful Job on the Planet?
For bus drivers, streets are crowded. Passengers are cranky. And there’s always the chance you might get punched.
By Tom Vanderbilt
Updated Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2011, at 7:08 AM ET

Last month, in a grossly egregious case of backseat driving, a woman was arrested after she attacked a New York City bus driver for, as she claimed, “driving too slow.” It’s hardly the first time a passenger has taken out their frustration with Gotham’s traffic on the driver; indeed, a December 2008 MTA study found nearly 60 physical assaults that year, not to mention dozens of cases of being spat on—and heaps of verbal abuse.

It’s not just New York: Research in the United Kingdom has found that bus drivers report fear of physical assault as their job’s biggest stressor. With good reason: In 1993, for example, more than 1,500 assaults were reported. A 2000 survey found that British transport workers had the highest fear of assault of any occupation, with an actual risk more than four times that of any other job.

That’s hardly the end of bus drivers’ concerns. Spending hours driving in congested traffic, subject to time pressures (and passenger complaints) made worse by that same traffic, is a potent stress cocktail. Drivers face many external pressures but often have relatively little control over their environment, a combination that makes bus driving, as The Journal of Occupational Health Psychology writes, “a classic example of a high-stress occupation.” One Dutch psychologist, noting the competing demands for staying on schedule, driving safely, and accommodating passengers (for whom the ideal bus journey has been wonderfully classified as “pleasurable without being ecstatic”), has described a kind of Sartrean dilemma: Make the schedule by driving more recklessly, or drive safely and irritate the passengers. “Whichever alternative the driver adopts, he or she will constantly have a conscious or subconscious feeling of inadequacy.”
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This mental toll, combined with the physical rigors of driving itself, leaves bus drivers suffering from elevated levels of blood pressure, adrenaline and salivary cortisol (as do most people with an unpredictable commute), and hypertension. As Cornell University’s Gary Evans, who has conducted many studies on the occupational health of bus drivers, notes, “over twenty epidemiological studies of city bus drivers reveal excess rates of mortality and morbidity for heart disease and gastrointestinal and musculoskeletal disorders.” Add to that any injuries sustained in crashes—roughly half of which, research has found, involve the bus being struck from behind (by confused or impatient drivers). Perhaps understandably, bus drivers take more sick leave than people in other occupations (and two to three times the population average, by one finding).

oleh January 31, 2011 at 2:08 am

I have heard that for many people the most difficult elements of a job are : 1. dealing with the public
2. being on a schedule
3. not having control over your work conditions.
4. bus drivers are uniquely placed to face all three of these.

I heard from a new driver I know for Coast Mountain (our local public bus system) that the main priority in hiring new drivers is their ability to deal with the public. People can be taught to ride a bus.

P.S. It seems amazing that there are 240 comments to this blog entry. Milan, is this the highest amount yet on sindark.

. February 23, 2011 at 10:27 pm

Transit workers in Toronto will lose their right to strike under proposed legislation that labour leaders say could open the door to declaring other public-sector jobs essential services.

The Ontario government introduced legislation on Tuesday, banning Toronto Transit Commission workers from walking off the job again. The government argues that a city the size of Toronto cannot afford to grind to a halt when the subways, streetcars and buses aren’t running. But the proposed legislation threatens to jeopardize the McGuinty government’s good relations with unionized workers. Labour leaders said the legislation will create a rift between them and the governing Liberals, who are seeking a third term in next fall’s provincial election.

The leaders were also quick to equate Ontario with Wisconsin, where tens of thousands of workers have protested a proposed crackdown on public-sector unions.

In Ontario’s case, however, the legislation is not about saving money – declaring the TTC an essential service is widely expected to cost the city more in the long run. Ontario Labour Minister Charles Sousa stressed that the legislation is expressly designed for the unique and critical role Canada’s largest transit system plays in the lives of Torontonians.

“For the City of Toronto to lose the people-moving system relied on by 1.5 million on a normal business day,” he said in the legislature, “it is much more than just an inconvenience. The impact of TTC service disruptions would send economic and environmental shock waves across this province.”

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