Transit Toronto is sponsored by TransSee.ca bus tracker and next vehicle arrivals. TransSee features include vehicle tracking by route or fleet number, schedule adherence, off route vehicles and more advanced features. Works on all mobile devices and on any browser.
Supports Toronto area agencies TTC, GO trains, MiWay, YRT, HSR and GRT, as well as NY MTA, LA metro, SF MUNI, Boston MBTA, and (new) Barrie.

Gee: An essential TTC could end up costing taxpayer more

When Liberal MPP and former health minister David Caplan proposed banning the right to strike at the TTC, you could almost hear the hoorays from discontented commuters. Instant polls by local news outlets showed big majorities in favour of the idea. “Enough with this Union crap! Declare them essential?! YES!” wrote one critic on BlogTO.

But if they want to stick it to TTC workers and their union, this is an odd way to do it. Mr. Caplan’s private member’s bill would declare the TTC an essential service like police or firefighters. Without the threat of a work stoppage hanging over them, union and management have far less incentive to hammer out a new contract. As a result, a provincial arbitrator usually comes in to sort things out for them.

Arbitrated settlements are no friend of the City of Toronto or its taxpayers. Arbitrators helped the police and firefighters win settlements of about 3 per cent a year in the most recent round. A report by the TTC estimated that the city would have been out an extra $11.2-million if the contract negotiated in 2005 had been arbitrated instead. A report by the C.D. Howe Institute put the premium even higher: about $23-million over the life of a three-year contract.

For that reason, Mayor David Miller opposed designating the TTC an essential service when the proposal came up in 2008. City council narrowly agreed with him, voting 23-22 against the essential-service idea. Does Mr. Caplan propose to override that democratic vote and impose an essential-service law regardless of the city government’s wishes? If so, quips Mr. Miller, then he should also take all the phone calls when there’s a problem with bus service on a route in Scarborough.

It’s a blessing that Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne appeared to pooh-pooh the essential-services idea yesterday.

Even if it didn’t impose an extra cost on taxpayers, banning TTC strikes would be a dubious notion. The right of workers to withdraw their services to back up a demand for fair treatment from their employer is a fundamental one. Governments should take it away only where they can show that a strike would put people in real danger or that there is a grave threat to the public interest (a dockworkers’ strike in wartime, for example). The federal government’s Public Service Labour Relations Act defines as essential those services that are “necessary for the safety or security of the public.”

The TTC doesn’t meet that test. A strike would cause massive inconvenience to many thousands of people, but the city would survive - just as Paris does through its many transit strikes or as Toronto did during the pain-in-the-neck garbage strike last summer.

Workers value their right to strike so highly that they often ignore strike bans and walk off the job anyway. It happened in New York in 2005 when transit workers went out for two days despite a law making it illegal for municipal workers to strike. B.C. teachers struck for two weeks in 2005 despite a law against it. It isn’t hard to imagine the belligerent TTC union doing the same. Its leader, Bob Kinnear, denounced Mr. Caplan’s idea as a “pathetic political ploy” to rob workers of their legal rights.

by Marcus Gee
Columnist

If frustrated TTC riders really want to improve service on the TTC, there is a far better way. Break up the TTC monopoly. Let private companies bid for the right to operate new lines, starting with the Transit City routes going in at the northern end of the city.

Benjamin Dachis, author of that C.D. Howe report on essential-service laws, notes that London, England, lets private companies run many of its bus routes. Several big U.S. cities do the same. Competition helps keep service standards up because the private operators know they could lose their contract if they don’t have helpful drivers and clean vehicles. If there is a strike, the whole system doesn’t shut down; at least part of it keeps running and the walkout is less painful for commuters.

That - not cancelling the right to strike - is how to stick it to the TTC union.




dividerinside