Sunday, August 3, 2008

Winnipeg Transit Strike Averted!

Winnipeg's first transit strike in 32 years was narrowly averted on Thursday morning (July 31, 2008). There are still some unsettled issues that have been sent to a committee and also to arbitration, but the strike threat is over and transit should return to normal within a few days.

The 1976 strike lasted from January 26 to March 12, 1976. That's 47 days without service - in the middle of winter no less! I wasn't in the city at the time, but I had friends who were here, and it was hell for many of them to get to school and work. Some managed to carpool, some hitch hiked and some just had to walk.

We've had threats of strikes since, but this latest is the closest we've come since. The city had even delivered fencing and barricades to the transit garages so that management could lock out drivers.

The drivers had been refusing overtime for the last several days as part of work action. That meant that during peak hours, there were anywhere from 15 - 25 less buses on the road. Passengers had to do daily checks on the web site or through the local TeleBus phone system to learn if their route was effected.

I am in complete support of the transit drivers. Working split shifts and/or 7 days straight is ridiculous. I've talked with many drivers over the years and they are fed up with management, split shifts and scheduling. That type of scheduling takes a heavy toll on the health and family life of anybody.

The vast majority of drivers are helpful, friendly and considerate to most passengers. I always sit at the front of the bus for easy exit and to hear the driver call stops. I've had ample opportunity to hear some of the abuse that they put up with from riders. Regardless of the type of day I am having, I always greet the driver, use please when requesting info/stop and say thank you as I get off.

I have lived in the city for close to 25 years and am almost completely dependant on the regular transit service to get me to and from grocery shopping, appointments and other activities. A full out strike would have made life very difficult for myself and thousands of others who rely on this vital service.

There is a Safeway nearby, but who can afford their prices? I prefer Superstore which is about 6k each way (20 minutes by bus) or Price Choppers (10 minutes by bus). If there had been a strike, I'd have been walking 3k each way to Price Choppers. I was not looking forward to it. Walking is not a relaxing activity, as I am so focused on the safety of each step and my surroundings, that I cannot enjoy the exercise.

At the beginning of last week, a strike seemed imminent. Fearing the worst, I made a trip to Superstore on Tuesday morning to do a MAJOR stock up on non perishable items that I may run low on in the next month or so. I wasn't about to be forced into paying premium prices for my regular purchases. I did the same thing a couple of years ago when the staff of Superstore were within hours of a strike. They settled that night!

I stocked up. Superstore settled less than 24 hours later. Transit settled 2 days later. Coincidence? Probably, but I like to think that I spent that extra money to prevent the strikes! Prepare for the worst and you won't need it.
I'm relieved that the strike has been averted. As a good friend of mine said; "A strike would have left a lot of us screwed - and not in the delightful way!"


videonick said...

Greetings. Good post on the settlement of the transit labour dispute. However, I may have to take up the position of fly in the ointment. (not a position I want to take but ...)

According to a Free Press article, which I will include a link to, the union's bargaining committee may have been a bit hasty with the settlement. They may have violated Manitoba labour law by not having a ratification vote on the new settlement. So, the union membership will be voting on the settlement on August 20th.

According to the article, 50% plus one voting no would see the drivers on the picket lines on the 21st. This could still get interesting.

I've talked to a few drivers since the settlement and some of the "No" voters for the previous offer, which triggered the job action, are satisfied that the two sides are willing to go through more negotiating process. I gather that part of the settlement includes a review of the drivers' group system. I'm not 100% sure about that though.

Let's see what happens. Perhaps there may not be enough "No" votes for a 50% plus 1 strike majority. Here's hoping.

Here is the link to the Free Press article. I quickly skimmed it so I may have left out some of the finer points of it:

Now, I must say that even though I would be one of the unpleasantly screwed by a strike, I still support the drivers too. One of the things that Transit wanted to do was make the Sunday shifts long, like the weekday and Saturday ones, or the statutory holiday ones. The Sunday shifts would expand from the 6.5 hours now to something between 7.5 and 8 hours. Many of these new shifts would be split shifts. So, that 8 hours could be 9, 10 or even 13 hours long, including the period between the working hours. That can be pretty crazy, especially when doing that 7 days in a row. It can really do a number on one's life. I have worked bunches of overtime inthe past but never long strings of days like that. I wouldn't want to. For the benefit of anyone who may read this and is not familiar with the working schedule of the majority of Winnipeg bus drivers, here is a breakdown(to the best of my memory) of a driver's shift rotation over about 4 weeks. Some drivers only work weekdays. These tend to be the most senior drivers and have had to put in anywhere from 10 to almost 20 years to get this. For the rest, here is what they do, with different groups starting this rotation in different weeks:

- Week 1: Sunday is a day off.
- Work Monday to Wednesday with Thursday off.
- Work Friday through the Thursday of week 2. Friday and Saturday are days off
- Week 3 starts with Sunday and Monday off.
- Then, more work from Tuesday of week 3 to Monday of week 4. Tuesday and Wednesday are days off.
- Thursday through Saturday of week 4 are worked.

So there it is. Pretty wild huh? At least Sunday is currently a little shorter of a day.

Here's hoping that there is no further job action needed and the two sides can get things worked out.

dnsyl57 said...

I had written the post before I read the article yesterday. I wasn't very happy either, but I will be in support of the drivers all the way - the scheduling is insane and HAS to change or they will never be able to recruit and keep new drivers. The system has enough flaws now let alone having half the drivers and being exhausted.

BTW, I'll be making another major grocery run to Superstore the morning of the 20th to ensure a settlement! :)

videonick said...

Good plan for the 20th. :-)

by the way, I have now, finally, started a blog. You and yours are welcome to stop by. The full webiste is Drop by, read a post, make a comment. it's ealry days yet so there ain't much there right now. :-)

Further to your comments about having enough drivers, the city is doing stuff on the cheap by relying on the overtime the drivers put in now. That's nuts.