As we enter the fifth week of the transit strike, it's a good time to
remind ourselves not to get too caught up in the growing rhetoric coming from
The latest example is the city's "ultimatum" to the transit union. Stung by
the 78% rejected of its latest "final" offer the city struck back with this
threat: if the union doesn't accept the deal by 11:59pm Friday, then everything
is off the table.
In some labour disputes an ultimatum really is an ultimatum.
Just ask the
workers at the Caterpillar plant in London, Ontario. When they walked out
refusing to accept wage concessions, the company simply shut the plant and moved
production to the United States. Closer to home, the unionized workers at the
Bowater Mersey Mill had to accept job cuts and concessions, or face the very
real possibility their plant would be closed permanently.
But in this case, unless the city is prepared to shut down the transit
service and move it to Moncton, the "ultimatum" rings hollow. It sounds like
when a parent tells their child "if you don't do your homework you'll never
watch television again." Even as they are saying it, both the parents and the
child know that is never going to happen.
So even if the city plays fairy godmother and turns its "final" offer into
a pumpkin come midnight Friday, it doesn't really mean anything. At some point,
both sides will return to the bargaining table, and when they do, most if not
all of what's in the current offer will magically re-appear.
Which brings up the other term that we should all read with a huge grain of
salt. Final offer. Whenever a strike is looming, and certainly when we are in
the middle of one, the term "final" is inevitably attached to whatever offer is
currently on the table. In labour relations there is an old saying that goes
something like "the only final offer is the one that's signed by both
Given the growing acrimony between Metro Transit and the Amalgamated
Transit Union, it's hard to see how they will get to that point. But they
For the thousands of transit users, who are about to enter a second month
without a way to get around, the only question that really matters is - how long
will that take?