Thursday, January 29, 2009

Faced with back to work legislation due to be introduced in the federal parliament the City of Ottawa and Local 279 of the Amalgamated Transit Union have agreed to a deal, yet to be ratified by the union membership, to enter into negotiations via an arbitrator. This ends a 51 day long strike and to return to work. Only last week the City rejected a similar offer on the part of the union to take the dispute to arbitration. The events of today may, therefore, be seen as at least something of a victory for the union. Yet, it is far from an unqualified success. Please note one salient fact in the following story from CTV Toronto. Both the federal Liberals and the federal NDP was in agreement with the back to work legislation proposed by Conservative Minister of Labour Rona Ambrose. This says something, at least about the NDP.
City, union reach deal to end Ottawa transit strike:
Avoiding federal back-to-work legislation, the City of Ottawa and the Amalgamated Transit Union have reached a tentative deal to let an arbitrator end the public transit strike that has paralyzed the nation's capital for 51 days.

Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien told CTV Ottawa that all issues - including the contentious scheduling question - will be sent to arbitration.

"Both parties realized that the moment the federal government agreed to take this to legislation, it was over," O'Brien said.

"We agreed very quickly that we could go around all of that, and simply go back to the process of getting those buses on the streets for our citizens."

O'Brien said the arbitrator would find a balanced approach between the two sides, who have clashed on dozens of issues ranging from scheduling control to wages.

"I know citizens have been through a lot, but I think this is the best way to get a fair and reasonable offer," he said.

"It was absolutely the only way we were going to reach a deal, and I'm very comfortable we're moving ahead this way."

Although an agreement has been announced, it will still take at least one week to get the first round of buses serviced and back on the roads.

O'Brien said the city will make announcements over the next three days on how and when OC Transport will gradually return to the streets.

City council will hold a special meeting on Friday to discuss the developments.
Agreement forgoes emergency House of Commons debate
The deal comes one day after federal Labour Minister Rona Ambrose threatened to introduce back-to-work legislation to end the strike, which would have also resulted in binding arbitration. An emergency debate in the House of Commons scheduled for Thursday night was cancelled after the deal was announced late in the afternoon.

Transport Minister John Baird, the MP for Ottawa West-Nepean, said it became clear on Tuesday that the city and union were "not going to put politics aside and come together" once talks collapsed.

The federal government had the back-to-work legislation prepared to enact immediately, Baird added. Marjory LeBreton, the government leader in the Senate, planned to keep the upper chamber in session late Thursday night in case the legislation passed through the House of Commons.

More than 2,300 bus drivers, dispatchers and mechanics walked off the job on Dec. 10. They had been working without a contract since April.

Ottawa South MP David McGuinty said the arbitration agreement reflected the fact that right to collective bargaining had to be balanced against the public good: missed medical appointments, lost jobs, and stranded students.

"Both sides (had) lost perspective," said McGuinty, a Liberal whose party, along with the NDP, supported the back-to-work legislation.

"The city and the union became very ideologically entrenched. I think they began to understand they lost perspective and that people were suffering."

Craig Watson, an OC Transport driver and a scheduling representative with ATU Local 279, told CTV Newsnet that the public had every right to be frustrated.

"Both parties need to collectively shake their head," Watson said, but added he thought the city "did a lot more wrong than we did wrong."

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