Much of YRT and all of VIVA are now in their fifth week of a strike and little is being done. The unions are asking for arbitration and for York Region to get involved. The Region is saying it is not their problem.
My opinion is that the Region has a duty to get involved and bring in binding arbitration between the contractors and their unions. My reason is simple: York Region created the mess, and it is their responsibility to fix it.
I would like to ignore the argument about transit being an “essential service”, but that always comes up, so let me explain my position on that to get it out of the way. I put it in quotes because I know that others will differ on what the word “essential” means. When the TTC was being made an essential service, someone argued that they should not because they are not necessary in a life and death situation. I don’t buy that definition of “essential”. I equate “essential” with whether or not one has the choice to pay for it. By my definition, everything the government does itself is “essential” because we don’t have the option to not pay a portion of our taxes because we don’t make use of certain services they provide.
Quite frankly, if is not “essential” then the government should NOT be doing it. The exception to this is where it may be necessary for the government to oversee and manage a service for the better good the community, but not actually implement it themselves. Garbage collection is a good example of this. I want the government to set the standards and schedules, but they don’t actually have to have their own employees do the work, so it can be contracted out.
As much as I believe that ALL government workers are “essential”, and therefore should NOT have the right to strike, I also believe that any workers for a private company SHOULD have the right to strike. Therefore, it must be realized that when a service is deemed necessary for the government to oversee, but not essential for them to implement, then by contracting it out, there is the possibility that the workers of the private contractor could go on strike. That is a fair trade off, and it is the responsibility of government to minimize the possibility.
This brings us back to transit operations. Should it be essential or not? That question can only be answered on an operator by operator basis. The TTC is a significant life force of Toronto. With about a 40% modal split for commuters, it is perhaps best if it were not only managed by, but operated by the city. As such, it is “essential”. In York Region, the modal split is closer to 5%. Not to suggest that those 5% of commuters are unimportant, but as we have seen, there are ways to get around. In addition, contracting creates a situation where part of the system continues to operate during a labour dispute. I does make me wonder how it is possible for three of the four contractors to have collective agreements that expired at the same time.
Now that I have given my position on “essential service” and contracting out, what do I mean by, “York Region created the mess, and it is their responsibility to fix it”?
Quite simple: while contracting out opens up the possibility of strike action, it is the government’s responsibility to minimize that. The clowns that run York Region somehow signed contracts that outlive the collective agreements that the contractors have with their unions. Just last year, the division that is currently still operating nearly had a strike, but managed to sign a new collective agreement. Just months after that, YRT signed a new FIVE YEAR deal with the contractor. How much do you want to bet that their collective agreement expires before the new contract does?
It is extremely important to NEVER give a contract that outlives a collective agreement currently in place. If the collective agreement expires in 20 months, then sign them for 19 months with a provision that they will be resigned without the need to tender once a new collective agreement is in place (barring any other condition of the contract that may result in the loss of the contract). One might suggest that this would deter potential contractors from bidding. If that is the case, then the alternative is to have a clause in the contract that allows the operator to use another contractor should they not be able to deliver service. Can’t be done? I did that when I built my own home. The contract that my subcontractors signed allowed me to CANCEL their contract if a labour dispute stopped their work for more than three days.
York Region must get involved to fix the current problem. Then, they must implement policy that forbids the signing of contracts that outlive contractors’ collective agreements. I am thinking of turning this second point into a campaign for the next municipal election. York Region councillors beware!