Monday, 2 February 2009

Labour-Management Relations at OC Transpo – Moving Forward After The Strike

This was a strike that had to be, but never should have been. After over 50 days of the workers going without pay and the city going without transit service, and the hardships resulting from that, we ended up with a settlement that we could have had without a strike.

But the fact is that it took a strike for OC Transpo and Mayor Larry to realize they could not impose their position (the main issue being the rollback of previously negotiated contract provisions) unilaterally.

At this point we have very ill will between workers and management and the potential for a “poisoned work environment”. How do we move forward from here.

The irony of it all is that the very contentious scheduling provisions that we're at the heart of the strike were negotiated as a solution to the ill will between management and workers and a “poisoned work environment”.

The solution put forward at that time, by the consulting group KPMG, was to get both sides to work together for the common good using interest-based bargaining, rather than the traditional confrontational demands-based bargaining. Out of that came a management proposal to change the scheduling system to give the workers more control over their lives. And things did improve.

Then Larry O'Brien was elected Mayor of Ottawa, and he obviously did not bother to learn the history of OC Transpo or he chose to ignore it.

We can no longer ignore history. We not only need to rebuild OC Transpo ridership, we also need to rebuild trust between workers and management. We need to go back to the non-confrontational approach.

Their may be a need for improvements to the scheduling system. If so, they should be designed the same way the existing system was designed, by workers and management taking the time to co-operatively design a better system together.

There will be a lot of challenges to rebuild OC Transpo and rebuild ridership. The chances of success will be a lot better if workers and management do it together co-operatively. We are at the stage of moving into a whole new phase of public transit in Ottawa. We can only succeed if we work together and take advantage of, not only the expertise of hired consultants, but the expertise of our own front line workers who are in contact with transit users everyday.

Both sides could start by providing transit users with an assurance of continued stable transit service by agreeing to use interest-based bargaining for the next collective agreement and agreeing to send any outstanding issues to binding arbitration with no preconditions.

They could start working immediately by establishing a worker-management brainstorming group to develop ways of improving transit service in Ottawa. Not only might this come up with some novel ways to improve service, it will get both sides working together for the common good.

1 comment:

Mark Greenan said...

This is in the top 1% of all the commentary on the bus strike that I have read.

I heartily encourage you to pitch this to the Citizen and other media outlets as a comment piece.