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City council debates essential service legislation

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Joined: 01 May 2008
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 31, 2008 10:50 pm    Post subject: City council debates essential service legislation Reply with quote

Two things are interesting about this debate.

First, even though the 'left' on the council defeated the motion, they allowed the right to define the terms of the debate. The question was simply how to ensure continuous service at the least cost to the taxpayer/rider. There was no recognition that council was debating removing the rights of 9000 workers in the city. Holyday's comment below is a rare, and somewhat bizarre, exception given his political bent. This is remarkable since so many of the councillors who argued against the motion (Giambrone, Mihevc, Moscoe, Mammoliti) are former trade unionists themselves. I'm sure this has influenced their position, but they didn't want to talk about it.

And secondly, the councillors were unsure what the consequences of essential service legislation would be for labour discipline, and what other city is the relevant comparison. Some thought that essential service would work to prevent strikes, as it does most of the time in New York, and others thought that Montreal was the more relevant case, where the union can still shut down parts of the system and strikes go longer. TTC management was there and they thought that employees would work to rule more often. They consider a long period of work to rule to be more damaging than a short one-off strike. Commissioners and management think essential service legislation would be a role of the dice, and they prefer the current arrangement (rare work stoppages with swift back to work legislation and binding arbitration). I didn't think the vote would be this close . . .

Miller wins tight vote on TTC's right to strike
Council won't ask province to declare transit 'essential service'


October 31, 2008

Thanks to an unlikely ally to his right - Etobicoke Councillor Doug Holyday - Toronto Mayor David Miller won a tight vote yesterday as Toronto City Council turned down the contentious idea of asking Queen's Park to strip the city's transit workers of their right to strike.

After a daylong debate, city council voted 23-22 against asking the province to declare the Toronto Transit Commission an "essential service," the closest vote on a major issue the mayor has faced since the temporary defeat of his land-transfer and car-registration taxes last year.

Councillors did vote in favour of a series of compromise motions, supported by the mayor, asking Queen's Park to make Wheel-Trans, the TTC's special service for the disabled, essential. (As it is, the union usually agrees to operate some emergency Wheel-Trans service during strikes.) They also voted to ask the province to legislate that the union provide 48 hours notice before any walkout.

Those supporting a total strike ban argued that transit strikes allow a union to shut down the city and hold Torontonians to "ransom" for wage hikes.

Mr. Miller and his supporters, citing a study by the C.D. Howe Institute, argued the move would drive up wages but fail to guarantee an end to work stoppages, as the union could still strike illegally or work to rule.

When two centrist councillors - Bill Saundercook (Ward 13, Parkdale-High Park) and Paul Ainslie (Ward 43, Scarborough East) - decided to support the strike ban, it appeared the motion might pass. But Mr. Holyday (Ward 3, Etobicoke Centre) - normally a fierce critic of the city's unions - then voted with the mayor.

"Why would a so-called right-wing councillor not see people's rights?" Mr. Holyday said, arguing that other alternatives - such as forcing a striking union to maintain rush-hour service - weren't explored.

"I think it's a serious matter to take away the labour rights of a group of individuals."

The dramatic vote capped a campaign by two of Mr. Miller's council critics, Cliff Jenkins (Ward 25, Don Valley West) and Cesar Palacio (Ward 17, Davenport), that capitalized on outrage over the transit union's surprise April strike. Mr. Jenkins predicted that the issue would resurface in the 2010 election campaign.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said before the strike he would at least consider a request from the city to strip the union of its right to strike, but later cautioned the city not to act in "emotional" haste. It was not known whether the province would act on any of yesterday's resolutions.

The at-times heated debate was watched impassively by Bob Kinnear, president of Local 113 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which walked off the job in April for two days before being legislated back to work and was blamed for one-day illegal strike in May, 2006.

In her speech from the council floor, Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby (Ward 4, Etobicoke Centre), the only member of the mayor's executive to vote for a strike ban, addressed Mr. Kinnear and scolded him for stranding people on a Friday night.

"Shame on you for doing that. That's totally irresponsible. The public deserves better!" she said. "We're paying your wages!"

Talking to reporters, Mr. Kinnear - who opposes the strike ban - dismissed the council proceedings as meaningless, since any real decision lies with the province.

"This is irrelevant," he said, "and has been a big waste of taxpayers' money."
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