Monday, April 28, 2008

A Tale of Two Unions

There's a contrast of unions here in the GTA, although none of the journalists who've covered these stories seems to have picked up on it.

On the one hand, we have the TTC union, pissed at their contract of 3% wage hikes in each of the next 3 years plus added benefits plus getting TTC management's clause of newbies earning only 75% of a veteran employee's wage swept off the table. On top of that, they got a guarantee that they would remain the highest paid transit workers in the GTA. Now the mechanics or maintenance bunch were not too happy with their rumoured part of the bargain. They called up talk radio, let their grievance be known, called on their fellow TTC union workers to back them up, and despite predictions that the tentative agreement would pass, it didn't. In fact, a majority booed it down, and within a couple of hours, they were on strike. And just to add insult to the whole thing, the Premier called on the public not to abuse the drivers when the provincial government legislated the TTC back to work. Excuse me. We ain't the ones being greedy and abusive here.

On the other hand, we have the CAW calling a new agreement with Ford at the St. Thomas plant a victory. Months before the old contract expired, the CAW and Ford management surprisingly agreed to a wage freeze, reduction in benefits, giving up vacation days for cash back, and a lower salary for newbies for the term of the deal. In return, union members get an extra year of work at this particular Ford plant, which was at risk of closing. This was a pragmatic deal, one that underscored how well this union understands economic realities.

Of course the difference between these two unions is that the city -- and thus the TTC union and TTC management -- consider property taxpayers and TTC users cash cows who will just cough up the money no matter what, and so there is no economic reality. Sure, Torontonians will grumble, but as we've seen over the garbage bin (round one) issue, they aren't going to really do much about it. It's not like they'll refuse to pay higher fares or higher taxes or do a reverse strike or lobby their Councillors or protest with placards in front of City Hall. They won't do like the French and set neighbourhoods on fire until leaders listen. No, they'll do their person-on-the-street interviews for the television cameras, fire off a letter or two to the local paper of choice, grumble to their families and neighbours, and do zero, zip, bupkiss to make governments sit up and take notice and force TTC management to play hardball with the unions and City Hall to go nose-to-nose with the senior governments to fund the system appropriately and move fares back down to affordable levels. You see, unlike CAW workers at the St. Thomas Ford plant, TTC jobs are not in jeopardy. And unlike Ford management, Toronto Councillors, provincial politicians, and TTC management are not prepared to take a leaf from Thatcher's book and bring sanity back to our public transit system. Look at how quickly the province legislated them back to work and then talked about the public as if we were the problem.

How insane has it become? The new deal -- the one that the TTC union rejected -- would have cost us $140 million more, yet the city is looking for the TTC to cut pre-deal $100 million from their budget.

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