Now that our buses have returned to full service and the lockout is over, we must take an honest look at what transpired.
The negotiation timeline has been well addressed here. The steps leading to and reasons behind the lockout are addressed here. However, the root cause of the issue, the story preceding the escalations has yet to be adequately revealed.
Can we openly, honestly and dispassionately uncover the reasons behind our collective failure to reach an agreement between City administration and Guelph’s transit union – ATU Local 1189? Why was a lockout needed to drive negotiations forward? How had our employees become so angry and disenfranchised?
Only by getting to the root of the issues and acknowledging that both sides play a role in the breakdown of the relationship, can we find solutions that will have a lasting, positive impact on the City’s ongoing relationships with its various unions. If hindsight is 20-20, what can we learn from this experience?
Any break in service delivery has significant and often immediate repercussions for the public. And too often, it’s those on the margins, the working poor, people on fixed incomes, with disabilities or limited mobility who are the first to be affected. The City and ATU, and its members, have an obligation to dig deeper.
As difficult as this is for me to say, I believe the City made the right decision to lock out ATU Local 1189 – a staff recommendation Council stood firmly behind. And I also believe the relationship between our transit employees and administration should never have been allowed to deteriorate to such an extent.
Trust doesn’t erode overnight. The level of frustration and anger felt by our transit employees grew over time and will take even more time to recover. Did we substantially consult our drivers about route changes? Did we fully explain that changes to the VIA Rail station were responsible for lack of progress on washroom facilities? Have we dealt with their expressed wish for a new downtown lunchroom? Are we meeting regularly with union leadership about workplace concerns and communicating results to the full transit workforce? We need to ask ourselves whether a lockout could have been avoided if we had a healthier relationship with transit employees going into the negotiations.
The first and second offers presented by the City, and overwhelmingly voted down by ATU Local 1189, were not substantially different from the one they voted to accept. Why is that? Did our Transit employees fully understand the offers? Is there confidence that personal or political motivations did not confound the process? Was it the backlog of workplace concerns and tensions – issues that fall outside collective bargaining agreements – that got in the way of addressing the wage and benefit items at the centre of collective bargaining?
There are always at least two sides to any story, and relationships are not the sole responsibility of one side or the other. I and my Council colleagues will be pressing City administration for plans to repair our relationship with our Guelph Transit employees. I hope ATU, and our transit employees, will join us.
Our community suffered through three weeks without transit service. Our transit employees and their families endured uncertainty and a break in their lives and livelihoods. We have a responsibility to do everything we can as a municipality to ensure positive working relationships, improved engagement and communication with our employees and their union leadership to limit the possibility of future disruptions.