We should know by the weekend whether GO Transit employees support the latest tentative agreement — reached last Friday — and perhaps a bit longer to hear if the agency’s board of directors also approves.
Bus drivers and other GO employees surprised many by voting down the previous deal — despite its recommendation by their own executive committee. Union leader Denis Tanham may have been directing his comments solely to his members when he declared of the recent agreement: “We seem to have gotten everything we requested.”
While most GO bus riders just want to know their commute is safe, others may wonder how much the provincial agency conceded to avoid a strike. It will take time to know the details of a final contract, but some of the issues hammered out in these recent negotiations could influence other upcoming contract talks.
GTA transit systems and their workers will look to the GO deal for possible precedents, including wage rates. The bargaining process is set to begin soon at the TTC, where driver pay has been a long-standing irritant in labour relations.
A reader from Burlington wrote me last week: “I love taking public transit for so many reasons, but I also have to depend on it. My commute takes me on GO and TTC and it infuriates me to have to worry about strike threats, walkouts, and other ‘negotiating’ tactics several times a year. Aren’t they here to serve us, the commuters?”
My sense is many GO workers have been on fairly good terms with supervisors and management, which makes me wonder why completing this contract has been so tough. From what I can tell, the average attitude toward customers among GO bus drivers and ticket sellers indicates they generally like their jobs. And yet the strong repudiation of the first two negotiated deals opened the possibility of their first strike in 30 years.
By comparison, the relationship between workers and managers at the TTC has been much rockier, and points to greater workplace dissatisfaction. Does this mean further labour uncertainty for Toronto commuters this year? I worry the answer is yes.
If so, expect renewed calls to declare transit an essential service, thereby making strikes illegal. At least in the case of GO, this would be tricky. The commuter trains are operated and maintained by union members who work for private sector companies — not for the transit agency. And even if legislation could somehow keep them on the job, there’s the prevailing wisdom that essential workers tend to be paid more once they lose the right to strike.
Should we pay higher fares for greater certainty? Tell me what you think.