Update on HSR labour negotiations: Strike Mandate Vote tomorrow

One lesson I’ve learned covering labour negotiations and strikes is nothing is predictable. All individuals involved, on both sides, have their own motivations and desires that guide how they act. Some are rational, others are not. Some rational goals lead to irrational decisions, and many seemingly rational strategic decisions become irrational upon encountering an irrational decision by the other side.

Hence, we can’t make any assumptions about what will happen.

Here’s where things stand today:

  • The ‘no-board’ report released by the Ministry of Labour does allow for a labour disruption at 12:01 a.m. on January 30th. It doesn’t necessitate that it will. (Traditionally, a labour disruption at the HSR begins at the end of service, meaning the 1:20 a.m. last buses will run and once they completed their last run, the disruption will begin.)
  • Members of the union, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 107, will vote for or against a strike mandate tomorrow.
  • The two sides are back at the bargaining table on January 24th.

The stakes are seemingly high for both sides and, much like a game of Poker, the outcome will depend on how the sides play their cards. Is the Union bluffing about a possible strike? Is the City ready to hold to a wage freeze for two years and one percent each year afterwards in a four-year contract? Will the City allow for a protracted bus strike like they did in 97/98?

Speaking with union members, including executives, this week, I heard one consistent grievance – ‘the City claims it can’t afford a pay raise of even $50/year for HSR worker which would cost $30,000 a year; yet the City has the money to afford a $30,000 pay raise for the Mayor’s Chief of Staff.’

The funds for the pay raise came from the Mayor’s budget, and despite City Council’s opposition, not the general budget.  Regardless, this is a real grievance that won’t go away. The pay raise struck a chord with the public, and the union will look to channel that discontent into public support for their side against City Hall.

Another factor will be the weather – maybe the single most important – if it looks like February will be a tough winter month, the union may see this as an opportunity to strike with the hope Council responds quickly to the disruption compared to a strike in spring.

There is no reason to state a strike is imminent, but there is equally no reason to state it won’t.

The people around the negotiating table will decide the course of events. The rest of us – we’re onboard for the ride and don’t get to decide where the bus stops