Sunday, March 11, 2012

Halifax bus strike

So the Halifax bus strike drags on. I doubt many people understand what the strike is about. Some technical dispute over the insider term "rostering", whatever that is.

There is actually a bus that goes near my place that arrives right at my work which I used a couple of times and would be usable overall if necessary. But I'm in the first group. No bus, shrug, hop in the car and drive to the office. I feel bad for the people put out by this as I was a rider for many years. The 1998 strike was disruptive. At least then it was nicer out and I was able to bike to work.

In a way it's a strange strike in the sense that the employer makes money by the workers being away. So the city may not have a lot of incentive to settle this as they make money every day of the strike. Alas transit customers from the middle class commuters have made other arrangements. and the students, the working poor and the poor have little influence in the media or political sway.

It's a bit like the 1990 federal civil service strike. Every day they were out saved the taxpayer $30 million. So they could stay out indefinitely as far as most people were concerned as it made no difference in our lives whether they went to work or not. It only became relevant when they started blocking traffic. I noticed transit is now using the same tactics, sacrificing the public safety by blocking snowplows from leaving the depot.

It's a risky tactic making yourselves as hated and unpopular as possible in the general public to create public pressure to then pressure the employer to settle the strike. By causing public disruption any goodwill they may have had in the public will swiftly vanish. And they may not have had a lot to begin with.

In recent years there has been an emerging meta issue around the unions and strikes. In 1990 the civil service strike was crumbling after a couple of weeks and thousands of government strikers were crossing the lines and returning to the office each day. If Mulroney had just sat tight for another 1-2 weeks the strike would have failed completely. Instead he gave the union a face saving deal around bumping which they were going to get anyway with the original 0-3-3 scheme. So in a sense it was deemed important for the union to go on and not be defeated.

Forward to the aliant strike sometime around 2007. Management was able to keep dial tone on as the strike dragged on for months. Then in late summer human interest stories started appearing in the paper that people had to pull their kids out of hockey because of the lost pay from the strike. Aliant was subtly pressured by the government to allow the union an honourable settlement to the strike so they could return to work. Again the union was in trouble but not smashed when the employer made a face saving deal.

One thing though. Two weeks in, once they missed their first paycheques the transit union was demanding to go to arbitration. HRM has wisely refused this. After the arbitration fiasco last year when the nurses were bizarrely awarded 5.1%. The arbitration system in Nova Scotia has a major credibility problem as biased toward the unions. To the employers and much of the general public the perception is that going to arbitration may as well just let the union dictate the terms of their settlement. So skip that. Let the union and employer come to some negotiated deal between them.

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