TTC Strike

April 26th, 2008 by Potato

I can’t believe the move by the TTC union last night. The matter was settled, as far as I was aware: a deal having been struck between the union and the TTC, the deal recommended by the union leadership, and the only remaining thing a vote by the union members, which after the union leadership strikes a deal is often a rubber stamp. Not this time, as the union rejected the deal and went on strike.

It’s the “went on strike” part that really burns my balls. I think the TTC borders on an “essential service” as it is, and that the union would risk losing a lot of goodwill with their original strike plan of providing notice. At least with notice, the TTC can become non-essential as people can plan to not go to work, take trips, arrange rides, reorganize their schedules, etc. This is barely made practical by the fact that the TTC contracts come up in the spring — in the middle of a “don’t go outside” heat wave/smog day in the summer or intense cold in the winter, then there would be much worse consequences to a TTC strike.

However, this wasn’t a planned strike with notice. They just walked off the job immediately after the vote, stranding thousands of people. They weren’t even stranded during the day when there might be the chance to wait out the rush for cabs in a restaurant or mall, or to walk in the warmth of the springtime sun. Instead, people were abandoned late at night, not even knowing that a strike that night was a possibility.

I watched a bit of the news as they caught people coming out of bars and clubs downtown, many of them making the responsible choice to not drink and drive and take the Better Way. Only to find, after getting there with everything hunky-dory, that suddenly the subways were closed and there were long queues for cabs… if you could even afford to take one. One guy interviewed (and I’m sure there were many more in that situation) spent all his money except the $3 he knew he’d need to get on the subway — how far would a cab take him for $3?

This also happened late enough at night that anyone who had to work on Saturday morning might not have had time to catch the news and adjust their plans. How many people will show up seriously late for work because of this insane move? A nurse called into CP24 to highlight another group of people caught off-guard by the sudden strike action: any shift-worker who had to start that night (e.g.: at midnight) found with zero notice that their route to work suddenly wasn’t there. Hospital workers were forced to work unexpected overtime as they weren’t allowed to leave until their replacement showed up.

The provincial government is going to introduce back-to-work legislation tomorrow, and even that I think is too long. They should have had that out today, but at least they’ll get together and have this fixed by monday. I’m going to write my MPP right now and encourage her to make the TTC an essential service.

This move by the union is doubly damaging because the SURPISE! factor is going to hurt the reputation of the TTC and transit as a reliable way to get around. So many people in and out of government are trying to get more and more people to give up their cars and take transit more often for congestion and environmental reasons. The price of gas skyrocking lately has really been helping with that message… and then the TTC Union goes and screws it all up by telling people who might be on the fence about giving up their cars “Hey, fuck you, we don’t care about you, and you can’t rely on us for shit.”

The stated reason for the sudden walkout was fears of violence against drivers. Hey, I’ve got news for you, when you dick around with this union strike bullshit when you’re an essential service that people need to get to work and go about their lives, they’re going to be really pissed off when you take it away from them, and there is a risk of some of the more unstable members of society getting a bit violent. It’s the risk you run as a union, and you’ve got to take steps to deal with that (have your “brothers” double up — let one guy ride shotgun unpaid until the issue blows over, get extra help from the police, etc). But when you really fuck people over by abandoning them with no notice, you are going to turn a couple of unstable and potentially violent people into all out homicidal nutbags. In fact, with next to no facilities to handle all the people stranded by the TTC last night I’m surprised there wasn’t a riot, or at least more violence as people fought for cabs. When you’re a union for something nonessential, like a car maker, or a retail chain, you can go on strike and you really only hurt the company (which may indirectly hurt yourself, the union, in the long run). It’s a bargaining tool that can be effective in some situations, without much chance of violence. However, if your strike takes away things that people really need: food, healthcare, transportation, power; then you are putting your lives into your own hands by striking. Violence is a real possibility. So what I don’t understand is why the TTC didn’t decide on some other form of job action that wouldn’t fuck quite so much with people’s lives. Anything to make their point but not cripple the city. Why not decide to stick to the “holiday” schedule until a new deal was reached? At least then people could still get around, especially those who really don’t have any other choice, but it would be slow, crowded, and inconvenient. Or stop all buses, streetcars, and subways for a minute at a time every 10 minutes? For the buses and streetcars, you’d even get to hold up motorist traffic. Or better yet, run the transit infrastructure, but don’t collect any fares. That hurts the TTC corporation/management and will actually get the public to have some goodwill for the union.

Finally, there were two very valuable reasons to have a nice window of notice for the people of Toronto prior to a strike. The first was to be nice and fair and give people a chance to cope with the strike. The second was to let the union threaten a strike and flex their union muscle to show management that they’re really serious this time without actually having to carry through with the strike. A strike is damaging for pretty much everyone involved: it’s bad for the city, and it runs the serious risk of getting bitch-slapped with back-to-work legislation for the union (which is exactly what happened) while they lose any support they might have had from loyal TTC riders. The TTC management is not totally retarded.

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