You may have been surprised to learn this month that an arbitrator had just settled the OC Transpo labour dispute. After all, the strike ended back in January.
Indeed, the resolution comes so late that we’re already halfway through the second year of the freshly struck three-year deal, which will end in March 2011.
I suppose we should be glad the entire contract didn’t expire before it was settled, but the ludicrously lethargic pace of negotiations speaks to a certain level of toxicity in the relationship between Transpo employees and management.
Gone is worker control of the schedule, a major point of contention between the city and drivers. The arbitrator noted that the arrangement, a concession from the city after a previous strike, “is not the norm. In fact, it is virtually unique.” So off it went, but wages were increased 3.25 per cent for 2008, 2.5 per cent in 2009 and another 2.5 per cent in 2010. There will be no additional sick days or special leave, and no changes to contracting work out.
Both the union and the city claim to be relatively pleased with the deal as set down by the arbitrator, which begs the question: Why weren’t they able to do it without an arbitrator forcing them to play nice?
The answer is suggested by the fact that for most of the strike, both sides spent more time complaining about each other in the media than actually talking to each other. Only when the federal government started waving around back-to-work legislation did they finally stand down.
You may recall that Capital Ward Coun. Clive Doucet was shouted down by the mayor and fellow councillors in the early days of the strike for daring to suggest they take the dispute to binding arbitration. That it has ended there almost a year later is rather embarrassing, but at least it eventually worked.
Amalgamated Transit Union members, however, last month blew a chance for saner labour relations in the future by voting to stay with a strike/lockout model instead of automatically going to arbitration.
“Hopefully, the next time the two sides are at the table they will negotiate and get a contract,” union secretary treasurer Jim Haddad said after the vote.
We dare to dream, but I have a feeling that when this contract expires in 2011, we’ll be headed for another round of posturing and brinksmanship.