Following is a statement by Bob Kinnear, President of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 on the arbitration award relating to Toronto Transit Commission workers.
“The Burkett award represents a compromise between the interests of both the union and the TTC. The wage increase of two per cent per year for three years is roughly comparable to other recent transit settlements in Ontario although it is somewhat less than the rate of inflation in Ontario in 2011 (3.1%) and it is impossible to predict how much inflation will further erode purchasing power over the next two years.
“As for the change that now requires a medical note for even one day of absence due to illness or disability, it will perhaps save the TTC a few dollars by discouraging workers from taking the occasional sick day off because it is so difficult to see one’s family doctor on such short notice. But it is no benefit to an overstressed medical system to have workers going to doctors because of a short-term case of flu, for example, and it is no benefit to TTC passengers to have vehicle Operators report for duty if they are feeling ill. We can only hope TTC management is reasonable in its application of this new rule. Full statement>
“Our main concern with the award, however, is not what it contains but rather what it does not deal with. As we predicted at the time of the essential service legislation, the arbitration process simply cannot replace the negotiating process in a system as large and complex as the TTC. Efficient operation of a major urban transit system requires regular discussion and fine-tuning of many issues that may seem small to outside observers but are nevertheless important to improvement in day-to-day operations. Staff scheduling issues, for example, have always been part of negotiations and there has always been a degree of give-and-take on such matters with the result always being incremental efficiencies that serve both passengers and taxpayers while meeting the legitimate concerns of the workers in the areas of job stability and skills recognition.
“But no arbitrator can replace the highly specific knowledge that both TTC management and the union bring to such detailed negotiations. And since the parties can reasonably assume that future contracts will be decided by a third-party arbitrator who will not feel qualified to rule on technical issues beyond his or her knowledge, there is now little or no incentive for the give-and-take that leads to greater operational efficiency.
“This is the main reason why TTC management itself, not just the union, was publicly opposed to the essential service legislation. They knew it would reduce their operational flexibility and that this was not in the best interests of the City. The decision to designate the TTC as an essential service was motivated by cynical political considerations at both the city and provincial levels. It was an historic mistake but one for which the cost can never be known because it is impossible to calculate what operational efficiencies could have resulted from unfettered negotiations. We can only hope that cooler heads will prevail when the legislation comes up for review in 2016.”