People in Guelph are walking, biking, scootering, or driving to work this morning. There’s no buses on the road thanks to a decision of the City to lock out its transit workers.
The lockout follows a second rejected proposed settlement by the employees. That tells us that the
workers are really pissed, and also that the union bargaining team misread the membership’s attitude. The union’s executive had recommended the proposed deal that was ‘overwhelmingly rejected’ by the workers. No collective agreement can come into force in Ontario unless it is approved in a ‘ratification vote’ (section 44). This law allows workers to veto a deal that both the employer and the union’s bargaining team had approved. It was introduced by the Mike Harris Conservative government in 1995.
In this case, the City of Guelph responded to the failed ratification vote by locking out its workers. It could have simply imposed its final offer instead, which included small wage increases and some other changes, and told the workers to keep driving their buses. Presumably, the City felt that strategy would not be prudent in the circumstances. Can you suggest why that might be?
The Ontario government has decided that public transit is an essential service in one city only–Toronto. In 2011, it enacted the Toronto Transit Commission Labour Disputes Resolution Act, which prohibits all strikes and lockouts and refers any bargaining dispute to interest arbitration. A lockout of transit workers could not occur in Toronto. In May of this year, the unions representing TTC workers and the TTC reached a bargained collective agreement without having to use that arbitration process.
Issues for Discussion
In recent years, there have been transit work stoppages in Ottawa and York Region that the government allowed to drag on for extended periods of time. Presumably, the Liberals similarly will not intervene in the Guelph lockout.
Do you think it makes sense that public transit is only treated as ‘essential’ in Toronto and not elsewhere in Ontario? Should Toronto have its own special system of transit labour relations?
In international labour law, developed by the International Labour Organization, transit is not an ‘essential service’ and Ontario is in violation of its legal ILO obligations by forcing all bargaining disputes at the TTC to go to arbitration. Do you think that elected governments should comply with their international law obligations, even if doing so is politically unpopular?