Friday, January 23, 2009

The Transit Strike

So, after Japanese class today, and after the usual breakfunch (breakfast, lunch, exactly), gorge-a-thon with my favorite classmates, I figured my hair was getting kinda ratty, so I went to the barber to tell him I was sick of looking like a hobo.

The guy ahead of me, was a Francophone bus driver. Now, those readers that live in my city know all about the strike, and are probably pretty sick of talking about it by now. Personally, I avoid talking about it when I can. But for those of you who live elsewhere: Our city bus drivers have been on strike for 45 days now. It’s freezing cold, the roads are all ice, and many people have actually lost their jobs to the transit strike. When it’s -25 degrees Celsius, walking outside for two hours each way simply isn’t an option. Many have taken to carpooling, and for some, this is not an option either.

The barber, let’s call him “Lieutenant Dan,” and the bus driver, whom I’ll call “the bus driver,” were talking about how awful people are going to be to the drivers when they finally get back to work. So I piped up and suggested there may not be so many people riding anyway. At this point, the damage has sort of been done. Even Lieutenant Dan had to move to keep his barber job, which is good, because he’s awesome. But that’s another story. Dan was careful early on to point out that I was indeed talking to a bus driver, one of his regulars.

The bus driver was complaining that they only get 6 sick days. So I asked him how much vacation time they got to start. Three weeks, he said. To start. After eight years, you get four weeks. And I just thought, you whiner you. I’m no expert, but most people I know working in the government get two weeks. My dad only get two weeks, and he’s a senior lawyer. I didn’t say anything to the bus driver, and by my tone, I don’t even think he knew what I was getting at. Lieutenant Dan did. After the bus driver left, he told me he only got two weeks, and he couldn’t even take both weeks at once.

It occurred to me, while I sat there listening to the driver complain, before he left that is, that he really couldn’t put himself in anyone else’s shoes. Like all the other bus drivers I’ve heard speak about it, he had no concept that he already had way more privileges than almost any other civil servant I know of. (And in this city, civil servants top the list.) They get more vacation time already, better wages, better benefits, they make their own schedules, (though that one’s up for debate in the strike too), and their job is basically to drive in a circle all day. That’s it. I’ve had fun conversations with some of them, joked with some of them, and apparently Scarlet says one of them was singing Italian Opera for the whole ride. Really, it doesn’t look like a bad job at all.

They chose to strike during Christmas, even though we’re in a recession. So, no only is it insane to ask for more money, but they actually crippled the local economy. Most of the shop lost all of their bus-going customers, which is basically half the city, to people (like myself) who couldn’t be bothered and bought from a place that delivers. (Amazon in my case.) Half of my classmates have simply not shown up to class this term, which is really hurting their marks. There are 2,300 bus drivers in this city, but easily 500,000, probably more who have been left out in the cold. Look at the size difference between those numbers, and tell me the decision to strike during Christmas and the coldest winter months isn’t completely morally corrupt.

There is a debate going on right now as to whether they should be allowed to strike at all, or if like nurses or firefighters, their service be deemed “an essential service,” and they be ordered back to work immediately. Their concerns would then instead be taken to court by a representative for arbitration. I think it would be better for everyone, personally. We’d have our busses back, and they’d be able to collect their fat paycheques again.


Inkpot said...

I didn't know about the strike, Mal, but that is terrible. They shouldn't be allowed strike, public transport is an essential service. It sounds like they don't know how good they have it. Behaviour like that isn't going to win them any favours either. Hope you are managing ok.

ema nymton said...

This strike has gone on for way too long. The only solace that I take in it is the fact that everyone involved in it (both on the city council and the ATU) is going to lose their job as a result. How great would it be if the head of the Transit Union that started this strike lost his job as a result of it? It'd make my petty little heart happy :P