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A deal no one liked averted TTC strike

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TONY BOCK/TORONTO STAR

TTC’s Howard Moscoe, left, and union leader Bob Kinnear walk the halls of the hotel where they reached a deal yesterday.

Mayor’s call and hallway yelling led to breakthrough

On brink, TTC sides found a plan they could `sell’

KEVIN MCGRAN
TRANSPORTATION REPORTER

You’re able to take the bus, streetcar or subway today because of a deal nobody was happy with yesterday.

At 4:30 p.m., the union was so upset, a TTC strike seemed imminent. A phone call from Mayor David Miller at 4:45 kept the talks on life support. But it was a hallway shouting match at 5 p.m. between negotiating teams that marked the turning point.

“Do you want a deal or not?” TTC chairman Howard Moscoe shouted to Bob Kinnear, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113.

And then it hit them. The fate of about 600,000 TTC commuters, 8,400 TTC workers and the city’s economic well-being hung in the balance. Was a percentile on pensions or minor change to contract language worth a massive transit strike that would paralyze the city?

“In every negotiation, there’s either a breakdown or breakthrough moment,” said TTC vice-chairman Joe Mihevc, after the tentative agreement was hammered out.

“For us, that was between 4:30 and 5 o’clock. It was a breakthrough. The mayor deserves a lot of credit for somehow managing to turn this thing.”

“I’m glad it helped,” Miller said of his phone call. “I’d asked to speak to (Kinnear) because I was concerned. We were so close, we needed a deal. It wouldn’t have been acceptable for the talks to fall apart.”

Ultimately, the TTC found a little extra — $6 million — to sweeten pensions and increase the total package to $166 million. It also yielded on contract language on discipline and scheduling.

“This is the toughest collective agreement I’ve ever negotiated,” Moscoe told reporters. “I feel like a member of the bomb squad who, half an hour ago, was faced with a green wire and a red one — and thank God we cut the right wire. It’s been that tight.”

The deal must still be ratified by the 8,400 workers. They’ll hear the details tomorrow and vote Thursday, but commuters were rejoicing last night.

Maricar Castillo, 24, let out a little cheer when she heard about the settlement. “I live downtown so it’s not so bad, but it would’ve been a hassle if I’d had to get up early and walk.”

Both sides convened for the last-minute round of bargaining at 8 a.m. yesterday at the Sheraton Parkway in Richmond Hill. The pace was slow, the stakes high, the tension palpable.

On Friday, the union had rejected an offer that called for wage hikes of 2.75, 3, and 3.25 per cent over three years. The TTC didn’t budge on wages all day.

The union was angry that concessions in previous years were bleeding the pension fund dry. The TTC added $6 million to its contributions.

Non-monetary issues were a huge stumbling block. The union made some gains yesterday on contracting out, on discipline issues for drivers who are early on their routes, and on last-minute schedule changes.

But as of 4:30 p.m. yesterday, the pace was out of control. Some in the union wanted to accept but had a hard time convincing the hawks on the executive board. The union didn’t get wages linked to cost-of-living increases.

The new pension money was, maybe, too much for the city, yet not as much as the union wanted. In some workplace issues, the union didn’t get all the contract language it wanted; in others the TTC gave up some authority.

The commission wasn’t happy, but it wanted labour peace.

“Most of it was contract language,” Moscoe said. “It may seem minor to us, but it looms very large in a guy who’s standing in a grease pit, who has to figure out if he has any job security.”

Miller had called an update news conference for 5 p.m. But when he learned, through a call from Moscoe and Mihevc, that talks were breaking down, he asked to talk to Kinnear. “If you had asked me at 4:30, I would have said we’re into a strike,” Mihevc said.

Miller called Kinnear at 4:45 p.m., and the TTC folks cleared out of the negotiating room. Neither Miller nor Kinnear will say precisely what was said, but Miller had a few weapons in his arsenal.

He might have reminded Kinnear that unions have a friend in the mayor, and a strike would strain that friendship. Then, too, a strike would be followed quickly by back-to-work legislation, so it would be short and serve only to get residents angry at bus drivers. Or maybe he simply told him that a deal neither side liked was fair to both.

“I talked to him about the importance of the transit system to the city of Toronto and also spoke about our difficult financial position,” Miller said, “and how I hoped that the union and management negotiators would stay at the table until they had reached a deal.”

“It was a long conversation, it was constructive and it was helpful,” Kinnear recalled. “It enabled the parties to continue some dialogue. Although the dialogue was awfully loud, at least the dialogue was continuing.”

Kinnear hung up after about 10 or 15 minutes, left the negotiating room and started down the hall, where he bumped into Moscoe and Mihevc headed the other way.

That’s when the “awfully loud” dialogue began.

“Are we in or are we out?” Mihevc recalled saying. “We all felt the pressure cooker of the moment.

“There was enough of a realization on Bob Kinnear’s part that this was real, and enough of a realization on our part that this was real, so are we in or are we out? And within three minutes, everything changed,” Mihevc said. “The character of the negotiations changed from ‘trying to get’ to ‘can we sell this?’” They had a deal. Mihevc called Miller, and a tentative settlement was announced. The deal nobody wanted at 4:30 became the deal everyone could live with by 5 p.m.

“I think both of us, when we looked at the precipice in front of us, we said, `You know what? This is good enough to sell,’” Mihevc said. “We had to give a lot; they had to give a lot.”

WITH FILES FROM ISABEL TEOTONIO




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