/ Because we’re on this roller coaster, too. /
At Tuesday’s Regional Council meeting, Council rejected the transit union’s counter-offer to the city’s final-final-final offer. (Yes, that’s an accurate written accounting of the iterations of ‘final’).
We learned a couple of things over the past few days.
First, we learned that the overtime issue that rostering is supposed to fix must, in fact, be at least in part due to the scheduling system. This has been Metro Transit’s line all along, although it was never exactly clear how rostering would address it. It’s still not perfectly clear, however we do know that the union accepts this as a problem, because their counter-offer included a way to address the overtime — but without adopting rostering.
Apparently this wasn’t good enough, because Metro Transit didn’t want to use an untested scheduling approach. Mayor Peter Kelly also indicated that the union’s counter-offer was nowhere close to being acceptable.
Second, we learned that HRM’s current offer has a shelf life. HRM has indicated that their final-final-final offer, which includes a modified version of rostering (deemed unacceptable by 78% of union members), remains on the table for the union to accept until 11:59:59pm on Friday. If the clock runs out, come Saturday, all deals currently reached will be off, and negotiations will start back from square one.
It’s important to understand what it means for these negotiations to be back at square one. Although it may not seem like it, negotiations between Metro Transit and the union are a fair ways along in the process. Both sides have already agreed on a number of concessions. If you remember way back from the beginning of the negotiations, there were actually three issues the union wasn’t willing to budge on. Those included the hiring of part-time workers, contracting out work, and the now-famous rostering scheduling system.
The reason why we haven’t been hearing about the part-time workers or the contracting of work issues is because Metro Transit and the union already have agreements on them (and on a host of other small issues the public has never been privy to). Only the items that have not been agreed upon are currently being negotiated, and this includes scheduling.
If the clock runs out and nothing happens before Saturday, all of that goes out the window, and everything is up for negotiation again.
Let’s not forget, the union has been calling for Metro Transit to agree to take the dispute to binding arbitration. This gets more interesting if (I expect, when) we get to Saturday without anything changing.
If the dispute were to be taken to binding arbitration before Saturday, the arbitrator would not have everything to work with. The items that have already been agreed upon (e.g., part-time workers and contracting out) could not come into play in the arbitrator’s decision, because the arbitrator would only be making decisions on those issues not yet resolved. Therefore, even with binding arbitration, the union is guaranteed to have ‘won’ on those two issues. (I hate using the terms ‘win’ and ‘lose’ in labour disputes, but I’ll keep it for the sake of simplicity).
Come Saturday, that will no longer be the case — an arbitrator would be free to fiddle around with a solution that may indeed contain part-time workers or contracting out work, for example.
Therefore, if the clock runs out and we hit Saturday with no movement, the game changes.
First of all, we might see Council be more receptive to binding arbitration, because with all previous agreements nullified, there would be a broader range of possible solutions for the arbitrator to craft. For this same reason, however, we might see the transit union become less enthusiastic about the idea of binding arbitration, because the risk that the arbitrator would impose one of those three make-or-break solutions will dramatically increase.
Come Saturday, with all previous agreements and offers nullified, the union could reject binding arbitration — an offer that the union originally made given that a number of concessions had been agreed upon.
So what does this all mean?
At the end of the day, the union is losing bargaining power the longer this goes on. By Saturday, if nothing changes, things get more difficult for the union. We may see HRM push for binding arbitration (which I expect the union would reject, unless they could get some of those concessions back). If HRM does want binding arbitration and the union rejects it, we may see Council appeal to the provincial government to enact back-to-work legislation, which would force transit and ferry operators to start operations back up, and would force negotiations into arbitration, like it or not.
So let’s say that HRM really doesn’t want binding arbitration as they’ve been saying all along. We could still see the province step in to enact back-to-work legislation and force arbitration.
At the same time though, we could just see HRM run out the clock.
Don’t forget, the striking transit workers are only making
about a hundred 150 dollars a week in strike pay. At some point, they’re going to have to pay rent and buy groceries. Union members are financially suffocating, and it’s a game HRM can continue to keep playing — especially with a lame duck mayor at the helm, who doesn’t have to worry about getting re-elected.
And so at this point, the strike will end in one of four ways:
- The union accepting the current offer by Friday (unlikely)
- The clock running out, and both parties agreeing to binding arbitration after Friday (unlikely)
- The clock running out, and the province enacting back-to-work legislation after Friday (possible, but this would be hugely unpopular among the NDP government’s base)
- Negotiations slugging along as they have been for a while longer, and our carpool families remain intact for an unspecified amount of time longer; rinse, and repeat (sadly, the most likely).
None of these are good options. This has been a lose-lose-lose process. These discussions should have happened collaboratively between workers and management, instead of at the bargaining table. Given the lack of information provided by both sides, it is very difficult to know which side is holding the more logical position.
There is one thing I do feel comfortable saying, though. I blame Metro Transit for mishandling its relationship with its workers, which is what got us into the mess in the first place.
UPDATE (Nov 29, 9:55am): I didn’t consider that the union could counter its own offer. But it looks like it may do just that … more details on that in this follow up post.
UPDATE (March 1, 7:45am): Looks like Metro Transit rejected the union’s counter-counter offer.