Frank Klees

Frankley Speaking

Frankly Speaking Article
by Frank Klees MPP

November 15, 2011

Transit Strike: Union Bosses, Politicians and 44,000 Victims

By the time this column is published, York Region's transit strike will be in its 22nd day and counting.

60 % of our transit system is shut down affecting more than 44,000 passengers.

As is always the case in these public service labour disputes, we hear the sparring that takes place at the 30,000 foot level between the union bosses and the politicians, and at ground level, real people are forced to cope with the practical reality and the hardships in their day to day lives.

Public transit is not just an option for many in our community, it is their only means of transportation.

Here are some excerpts of emails I've received from the many residents of Aurora and Newmarket who rely on York Region's public transit service:

"I have a special needs child who has no choice but to attend high school on the opposite side of Newmarket from where we live. There are no options available to transport him to school without the transit bus system and he may lose his whole semester of school because of this situation."

C.S. Newmarket

"I have a 26 year old son whose independence relies on the YRT...... We agree that people have the right to challenge their employers, but this challenge is affecting many people.... We have heard nothing about the strike for many days which is also concerning. We hope you can bring the strike to an end...”  H.B. Newmarket

“I am trying to run a kitchen in a nursing home and a lot of our staff is unable to get to work... Please try to stop this as we hear nothing about talks etc. to stop this."  G.R. Aurora

“This strike is unacceptable and nobody seems to be doing anything to get talks going. The unions have threatened a long strike. I would appreciate anything you can do to help in this matter." D.M. Aurora

“I am one of the people affected (by the strike) and am disheartened at the lack of movement and apparent lack of interest in resolving the strike. In particular, I am deeply disappointed in how York Region has washed its hands of any responsibility for resolving it." C.K. Aurora

Why are your elected officials who sit on the York Region Council staying on the sidelines?

Based on discussions with my municipal counterparts and their email responses to constituents on which I have been copied, here is the reasoning:

York Region does not employ bus drivers. The employees who are on strike work for private companies with whom York Region has contracted to provide the service; therefore, the reasoning is that the employees are not striking against York Region but rather against the private companies and the Region should not interfere.

While I understand this reasoning, and agree that the Region should not be engaged in the bargaining process for the reasons stated, I also believe that the Region has a role to play in ensuring that the more than 44,000 residents of York Region who rely on public transit can count on that service to be there when it's needed. After all, it is the Region that has launched major initiatives over the past number of years to encourage those same residents to use public transit and rightfully boasts of increased ridership on its YRT/VIVA system. We can't on the one hand promote dependency on public transit and then leave more than 44,000 commuters to fend for themselves when their only means of transportation is shut down.

What can we do ? 

I say what can WE do, because I believe that both the municipal and provincial levels of government have a responsibility to bring this strike to an end and to ensure that we never subject our residents and businesses to this predicament again.

First, we have a responsibility to ensure that the parties are at the very least at the bargaining table. No settlement can ever be reached if the parties are not communicating. I am the first to say that labour disputes should be settled through a fair process of collective bargaining. That's why on day 12 of this strike, I issued a joint statement together with my fellow York Region PC MPPs Peter Shurman and Julia Munro, in which we called on the parties to immediately return to the bargaining table to work out an agreement that would allow transit services to resume.

What did the Union bosses say ?

Here's a quote from Bob Kinnear, President of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113: "If a two week strike doesn't send a message maybe it'll have to be two months." Sid Ryan, the leader of the Ontario Federation of Labour added his less than helpful rhetoric with these words: "You stay on that picket line until you get some dignity and respect from this employer." Interesting that over the course of the 22 days of this strike there hasn't been a picket line to be seen. What's the message in that? Clearly these folks have no urgency in settling this strike and are more than willing to hold the more than 44,000 commuters hostage without regard for their personal hardships.

In a self-serving full page ad, the unions called for voluntary arbitration because as Bob Kinnear, Local 113 President put it, "the union and the employers are too far apart for this to be settled through normal negotiations". Kinnear goes on to insist however, that he is opposed to arbitration if it is mandatory, which is what would be required under back to work or essential service legislation. And here's why:

The legislation passed earlier this year that declared the TTC an essential service, requires that an arbitrator must take into consideration, among other factors, the following criteria in making an award:

1) The employer's ability to pay in light of its fiscal situation.

2) The extent to which services may be reduced, in light of the decision or award, if current funding and taxation levels are not increased.

3) The economic situation in Ontario and Toronto

This legislation ensures that the City of Toronto will be spared any future public transit strikes and the resulting personal and economic hardships.

Public transit is as essential to York Region residents and businesses as the TTC is to Toronto.

I believe the residents and businesses of York Region deserve the same protection from public transit strikes as has been given to the residents and businesses in Toronto. That's why my colleagues Peter Shurman, Julia Munro and I called on the McGuinty Government to enact back to work legislation if our transit strike isn't resolved by the time the legislature resumes on November 21st and to extend the legislation that declared the TTC an essential service to all transit services in the GTA. See details

I would hope that our municipal colleagues will support this initiative and we will look forward to working with them to resolve this issue once and for all.

As always, I look forward to your comments and advice. Please feel free to contact me through my website at www.frankklees.com or by calling me at 905 750 0019.

Frank