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LORINC: How will new mayor bargain with the TTC?

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With the mayoral race spreading to the airwaves, most of the candidates (Joe Pantalone being the perennial exception) are doing their best to promote the half-truth that Toronto has become a city with its feet encased in cement.

The traffic doesn’t move. The transit doesn’t move. The civic workers don’t move. The construction crews don’t move. And if that ain’t enough, the G-20 leaders will arrive at the end of June on most expensive junket in the history of mankind, bringing to a halt everything else.

In fact, a decidedly consumerist brand of impatience has become the leitmotif of the 2010 race. Responding to the incessant drumming of fingers, Rob Ford promises a sentient body at the other end of all phone calls to City Hall, a theme that was picked up and re-packaged — “pronTO”!! — last week by George Smitherman. (Never mind that neither will tell Mr. and Mrs. Irate Taxpayer how they’ll pay for Toronto’s new era of gloriously responsive customer service.)

Smitherman’s wordsmiths, in fact, have come up with a catchy phrase to describe the summer of our (imputed) discontent: “days of disruption” — a slyly suggestive slogan that binds voter angst about interminable construction, clogged highways, transit delays and striking civic unions into one seething bundle.

None of them, however, are saying anything at all about the very real potential for labour disruption that looms heavily over the next term of council. The TTC’s collective agreement with the Amalgamated Transit Union expires on March 31, 2011, and the CUPE 416/79 contracts must be re-negotiated in 2012.

With Rocco Rossi, Rob Ford and Sarah Thomson all vowing to privatize garbage collection, and Smitherman pledging to at least consider it, the stage is set for an epic battle over the rarely acknowledged depth charge in CUPE’s collective agreement – the one that effectively makes it uneconomic for the city to outsource municipal services.

In case you missed the trailer:

“No permanent employee with ten (10) years of seniority shall lose his employment as a result of contracting out or privatization. Employees affected … shall have access to the Redeployment provisions of Article 28 and the Layoff and Recall provisions of Article 29. It is understood that permanent employees displaced from their jobs by reasons referred to herein will be relocated following consultation with the Union to suitable employment with the City and thereafter shall experience no loss of wages, benefits or seniority…”

Sure, the next mayor can privatize. But unless council persuades CUPE to drop the aforementioned sentences from the new collective agreement (don’t wait up), the City won’t save any money because the payroll doesn’t shrink. Thomson argues that retirements in the City’s aging workforce may give council some room to maneuver. Perhaps, but the almost inevitable showdown over the contracting-out language could make last summer’s garbage strike look like a playground spat.

Which brings us to the coming round of TTC talks, the next mayor’s first substantial task. Barring a long-shot victory by the Pantalone camp, here’s how the landscape will likely look in the run-up to March 31:

The new chair is almost certain to be a fiscal hard-ass. There will be non-politicians (i.e., business people) on the commission and lots of tough talk about shaking up TTC senior management. The Amalgamated Transit Uinon’s back, in turn, will be up for all the usual reasons, as well as the fact that the promised acceleration of the smart card deployment (from Rossi and Smitherman) could mean layoffs for ticket collectors.

Mostly, the first big labour negotiation for a new right-of-centre mayor will be viewed by everyone — voters, riders, councillors, public sector union leaders, the media — as a test of strength. In other words, they will have no choice but to figure out how to look like they’ve won, but do so without creating genuine disruption.

We asked the six major candidates stand how they’d approach the TTC talks:

Contract Goals:
Premature to speculate about outcomes of negotiation
Fare Hike for 2011? Fare hike would be tied to inflation and improved service
Essential Service? Yes, with the qualifier that existing provincial arbitration laws lead to expensive settlements

Contract Goals:
Won’t comment on wage goals, citing current economic uncertainty
Fare Hike for 2011? No, would lobby Queen’s Park to cover half of TTC’s operating deficit
Essential Service? No (cites CD Howe report that estimated previous TTC contract would have been $23 million more expensive under essential service designation)

Contract Goals:
Looking for a hiring freeze and workforce reduction through attrition
Fare Hike for 2011? Did not provide answer
Essential Service? No, says that would drive up operating costs

Contract Goals:
Looking for language that gives management more clout
Fare Hike for 2011? Wants to reduce fares
Essential Service? Yes (says unions come away with great wage settlements)

Contract Goals:
Won’t talk about bargaining goals in public
Fare Hike for 2011? No (no more taxes)
Essential Service? Yes (long-standing position)

Contract Goals:
Outsourcing; COL/inflation as benchmark for wage increase
Fare Hike for 2011? Fares shouldn’t rise given current service levels
Essential Service? No



  1. The solution is to embrace conflict. Have the courage that has been lacking in 4 generations of politicians and 7 decades of private sector management that embraced inevitable extinction instead of short term pain (Harper was a complete coward on this score).

    Prepare the public for pain from day 1.

    Admit that the city is insolvent on a reasonable and prudent accounting basis; Admit that everything has to change; Prepare for all out war with the unions and the press; Take the first opportunity and lock out the workers; Demand the contract be ripped up and refuse arbitration; Demand that any settlement embrace an open shop, sustainable work rules, and what workers could command in the private, nonunion sector for their jobs (i.e. janitors and cashiers get minimum wage regardless of years of experience, drivers get 40k max); End services, don’t contract them out; Institute a 10 year hiring, wage, and promotion freeze;
    Pay managers solely based on a bounty for successful dismissals for cause of unionized employees.

  2. Thanks for doing the questionnaire, John. Looks like there isn’t a candidate who will take office with a realistic plan. Each of them would need to break one or more promise within the first couple months of their term.

  3. Despite what “Truth” says (does Mike Harris read this blog?), the real problem is finding the right funding formula from the Feds and Province. The TTC’s labour costs are not the things hurting it — rather its the cost of maintaining the system and improving/expanding it. If you want to add more buses you need to build a bigger garage ($200 million) and and buy those buses.

    Until that formula is worked out a mayor or council can’t really deal with the systemic problems affecting the TTC.

    Having been to other North American cities Toronto is in fine shape relatively speaking when it comes to transit. Its not the greatest but certainly decent. Going to war with the Union is not worth it to the city or its residents.

  4. TTC negotiations will be made more interesting by where they would sit in terms of the next mayor’s term of office.

    The first set of negotiations would take place within the first month of the incoming mayor’s term. As John suggests, this will be a test of strength for the mayor — however it comes at little political risk, being right at the start of the mayor’s (and Council’s) term of office. The mayor can afford to take a hard line, risking a strike that would enrage the electorate, because there’s another 3-1/2 years left in office for the electorate’s anger to simmer down (or for the negative of a transit strike to be offset by other positives).

    Perhaps more significantly, though, is how the new mayor and councillors would handle the subsequent contract negotiations three years later. They most certainly could not afford to have an acrimonious strike on their hands, only half a year before the 2014 election. Of course there is always a chance that the mayor could come out with a major victory and come out smelling like roses, but it is a big risk.

    For that reason, I would suspect that the new mayor will want to get all the pain out of the way in 2011, so that he/she has more room to play with in the 2014 negotiations.

  5. To Truth –You’re going to have to break an awful lot of eggs to make that omelette… 😉

  6. Correction: I inadvertently noted Rocco Rossi’s position on a fare hike as “no” when it should have read “no answer.”

  7. If the collecrive agreement is expired, then wouldn’t Ontario labour law apply, meaning they get 2 weeks notice? Why would that still apply?

  8. @Christopher: No and you’re not even close.

  9. Sorry… just re-read my comment and the first paragraph should read “within the first six month’s of the incoming mayor’s term”.

  10. @DUN sorry, it was 8 weeks if they’ve been employed for more than 10 years accordong to the Ontario labour act, but my question still stands…if the collective agreement expired, why would the city still be held to the requirment of that clause where they essentially can’t lay off anybody employed beyond 10 years? Does the collective agreement still stand afer it expired? Is that a seperate “permenant” agreement?

  11. Mr. Hylarides came up with the same assumption (contract expires -> employment expires) on the matter of the municipal site, and I corrected him then.

  12. Duh, I meant “strike”, not “site”!

  13. ED: I’m not confusing the two!

    What I’m trying to understand is this: if the collective agreement expires, why couldn’t the city (if council had the political will, which would be debatable even if Ford or Rossi won the mayoralty) lay off the employees that would theoretically be replaced by private sector workers? Yes, they would have to give them up to 8 weeks notice or severance under current ontario labour law unless they have a contract specifying otherwise…which they wouldn’t if if it was expired. What’s stopping the city from doing what any private company does, even at union shops? Are these seperate agreements? I’m trying to understand here…

  14. And I might add, I’m not trying to stir up shit. I genuinly would like to know the answer to this.

  15. @Christopher Layoffs are always a possibility but they would be done under the rules of the collective agreement, which has better protections than what the employment standards act provides for (case law is even more generous than the employment standards act). That the contract expires and there’s a strike or lockout doesn’t change this.

    So yes, there could be mass layoffs — there could be mass layoffs without the contract ending — but the cost to the city makes doing it virtually impossible.

  16. @GUS If that’s true then it’s no wonder they act the way they do; they have almost nothing to lose and everything to gain. :-/

    Unfortunately, it cost Miller almost all of his political capital and set the stage for the current election. I’m not a fan of him, but it’s still a shitty way to go down.

  17. @Christopher…under the provisions for collective bargaining set out by the Ministry of Labour, the existing contract and all it’s working rules and agreements are upheld throughout the bargaining process until a new contract is signed. There is a never a time when the existing contract is invalidated or completely “expired”, if you will. As long as both parties are bargaining in good faith. Should one or either party leave the table or not bargain in good faith the issue typically goes to the provincial conciliator or arbitrator, in which case the the current work rules are frozen until the mediation is complete. Ergo, once a session has entered arbitration, the parties cannot simply choose to sign a new contract outside of the arbitration process. 

  18. There might be three ways around this dilemma. The nuclear option, which is provincial legislation. The second is waiting for arbitration and getting (hoping) for the new contract to remove the agreement. Thirdly, once a transfer of employment has taken place, if the new position and the contract covering such does not offers no such protection, cancel employment.

    All, of course, would end up in court.

  19. @Muse The TTC does pay way too much in labour costs, but it’s only one of many issues. One has to only compare the labour costs VS private sector bus companies to see that. Their rigid seniority rules means paying buckets in overtime into six figures for sitting in a subway booth, a job that would be a starting salary job almost anywhere else. Also, they do virtually everything in house, from maintenance to digging subway tunnels. They just BOUGHT a tunnel boring machine instead of contracting to a company that can amortize it over more projects. They sole-source most of their buses, streetcars, and subways.

    Part of the issue is the way government departments are funded (spend all your money or you lose it next year), but if you think the only issue is lack of funding, you’re quite naive.

  20. Some of the people posting above seem to have no qualms about commenting even though they know little about: a) labor laws; and b) the amount of time and effort it takes to train an operator so that they can operate a bus, streetcar or subway train in a way that, minimally, does not compromise public safety and can satisfy the work demands of the job. It’s basically around 24-30 days and a high percentage of people who start training end up failing. (And then there are those who pass training but don’t succeed through the probation period because of too many mishaps or whatever.) I know the TTC faced HUGE challenges in finding competent people during the expansion of the past few years…
    That said, given that the province’s recent practice seems to be to legislate transit workers in Toronto (but not Ottawa or elsewhere) back to work within 24 hours (even though they are supposedly non-essential) of a strike being called, I think there’s less of a potential problem here in terms of inconvenience to the public than meets the eye. TTC workers seem to have a right to strike in name only… so that remuneration doesn’t need to be given in recognition of essential service. Still, nothing quite gets people all worked up like mentioning “TTC”

  21. @SAMG The province couldn’t legislate the Ottawa workers back to work, OC Transpo crosses provincial lines and therefor falls under federal jurisdiction – so your knowledge of labour laws has as many gaps as hours.  It’s why we’re having this discussion.

    Also, we’re not saying that you just throw somebody into a bus and start driving, but you could throw somebody into a booth with minimal training.  The points (that I was making anyways) is that the current system is inefficient.  If I can take an uncrowded and comfortable Megabus to Montreal for $25 with wifi and the company can buy/lease/maintain brand new buses, then the TTC is most definitely not being efficient if I have to pay $3 to go a few km.

  22. It may sound great that we could save money by firing everbody but there would be an a period of time with no service at all. The coming months would be painful for those required to get to work on time as operators learn the routes. I have no faith in managment being able to make this adjustment transparent or better for the ridership.

  23. Christopher, be mindful of the fact that many of the people staffing collector’s booths are recovering from an injury or illness experienced on the job and that collector isn’t necessarily their “normal” job. From a service perspective, automating collections makes all sorts of sense but that won’t eliminate the need to compensate the injured/ill workers or find another less strenuous task that eases them back to a regular work routine while making a full recovery.

  24. ” If I can take an uncrowded and comfortable Megabus to Montreal for $25 with wifi and the company can buy/lease/maintain brand new buses, then the TTC is most definitely not being efficient if I have to pay $3 to go a few km.”

    Megabus doesn’t have a stop on every corner.

  25. @GUS If that’s (mostly) true, why are so many of them working so much overtime and collecting 6 figure salaries? Because most of them get to pick job placements first under seniority rules, which doesn’t allow the TTC to efficiently allocate labour resourses.

    If they are sick/injured isn’t that what insurance and workers comp is for? Regardless, you need to maintain a sense of proportion. Boothless transit systems exsist in places like Vancouver, Berlin, and London (docklands light railway) and they function very well. It’s not even necessarily about gross cost cutting, but allocating resourses elsewhere if possible. For example, if he TTC could save money by outsourcing maintenance, which virtually every private bus company does, they would have more money for buses and bus drivers. If however you’re more concerned about the plight of current maintenance workers, then you’re not interested in building an efficient transit system at all.

  26. @Mark — At the same time, Megabus doesn’t have to maintain an enormous and aging rail-based infrastructure built at the other end of a long depreciation cycle, and developed on the assumption that the province would cover three-quarters of all capital costs….

  27. @John that’s why places like London, Tokyo, and Seoul charge different rates for busses and the subway .

    @mark they also have a lot more people coming and going. Stopping often doesn’t increase costs that much, aside from a bit more fuel.

  28. With Megabus you get 7 hours of travel for $25 (although many passengers may be paying more). The TTC costs $2.50 (although many passengers pay less), so the equivalent would be 42 minutes of travel, which about how long to take to get from the inner suburbs to downtown.

    “If they are sick/injured isn’t that what insurance and workers comp is for?”

    Workers comp pressures people to get back to work, even if they are doing lighter duties.

    Even if the TTC got rid of booth workers or paid them less, because they represent a small percentage of the TTC’s workforce, it would not save much money.

    “For example, if he TTC could save money by outsourcing maintenance, which virtually every private bus company does”

    Most private bus companies don’t have a large enough fleet to justify their own maintenance facility.

  29. @Darwin The booth story is just one example.  TTC bus drivers are getting paid significantly more than market rates for their jobs, not even including their pensions.

    And some of the largest bus companies in the world contract out, including greyhound.  Outsourcing, done right, can save costs as maintenance companies can further specialize and amortize costs over more clients.  It’s the basic division of labour.  Also, you’re basing your calculations on time.  When basing on distance, the costs are a lot more off.

    Of course, we’ll never know who’s right as we’ll probably never see a truly competitive bus/transit system in Toronto.  And if you need more convincing, even Jane Jacobs said:

    Jacobs: No. I do think that we need to have a lot more public transit. But you can’t have public transit in the situation you’re talking about.
    Reason: You don’t literally mean publicly owned transit?
    Jacobs: No. All forms of transit. It can be taxis, privately run jitneys, whatever. Things that people don’t have to own themselves and can pay a fare for.
    Reason: You’re not an enemy of free-market transportation.
    Jacobs: No. I wish we had more of it. I wish we didn’t have the notion that you had to have monopoly franchise transit. I wish it were competitive — in the kinds of vehicles that it uses, in the fares that it charges, in the routes that it goes, in the times of day that it goes. I’ve seen this on poor little Caribbean islands. They have good jitney service, because it’s dictated by the users.
    I wish we could do more of that. But we have so much history against it, and so many institutional things already in place against it. The idea that you have to use great big behemoths of vehicles, when the service actually would be better in station-wagon size. It shows how unnatural and foolish monopolies are. The only thing that saves the situation is when illegal things begin to break the monopoly.

  30. Sorry Christopher, regarding your comment of 9.54am, why are you talking about the minimal training required for those staffing the booths (of which you are probably right) about when the issue regarding mass hiring has to do with training people who get passengers from point A to B in a safe manner? That group, which is critical to the system’s functioning (vs. collectors who many would argue are not), requires more than just minimal training. Again, I don’t see why people are getting into a huff about this issue when the likelihood is that any lengthy strike will be preempted, once again, by Queen’s Park.

  31. “TTC bus drivers are getting paid significantly more than market rates for their jobs, not even including their pensions.”

    Do you have data to back that up. Recently the TTC had a driver shortage because after drivers where trained they would quit to join the private sector. I would expect pay would be somewhat higher because it is a more demanding job then a inter-city bus driver because you have more difficult traffic to deal with and many more passengers, to a high chance you will have a difficult one.

    “And some of the largest bus companies in the world contract out, including greyhound.”

    Greyhound may be a large bus company, but their fleet is spread out across North America, so they have relatively few at one place.

    “Outsourcing, done right, can save costs as maintenance companies can further specialize and amortize costs over more clients. It’s the basic division of labour.”

    I except the TTC maintains several times more buses then any maintenance company in Southern Ontario.

    “Also, you’re basing your calculations on time. When basing on distance, the costs are a lot more off.”

    Most of the costs of operating a bus is by time rather then distance.