Beyond the Headlines

Binding arbitration and lessons from the past

Posted: Mar 6, 2012 11:27 AM ET Last Updated: Mar 6, 2012 11:27 AM ET

It appears Dawn Sloane isn't the most popular councillor at city hall these days.
Word is more than a few of her colleagues were somewhat miffed when Sloane told the CBC that maybe, just maybe, it may be time to reconsider the union's offer to settle the transit strike through binding arbitration.
Until now, councillors have only discussed the issue behind closed doors, leaving Mayor Peter Kelly to publicly reject the proposal.
So we decided to ask each councillor what they think. We sent them each an email with this question: "Now that we are into the second month of the transit strike, are you willing to consider binding arbitration to end the dispute and get the buses back on the road?"
17 councillors replied. Eight councillors; Mosher, McCluskey, Hendsbee. Streatch, Blumenthal, Dalrymple, Lund and Uteck all said no.
Here's how Councillor Sue Uteck put it, "Mayor Kelly is our spokesperson and the direction given by council is no to binding arbitration."
Another eight took the time to reply without answering the question.
Councillors Karsten, Smith, Rankin, Wile, Adams, Nicoll, Fisher and Barkhouse all said this was an issue to be discussed only by council, in-camera, and they had no intention of sharing with the CBC, and by extension taxpayers, their thoughts on binding arbitration.
Councillor Bill Karsten was by far the most eloquent in his email:
"Good morning Brian.
I feel it is only proper and polite to respond as I would any e-mail. I also respect that you have a job to do and the media has an appetite for news. I trust that you will respect that I am not going to answer your question because simply put, it is a contractual matter and is an in-camera issue.
For the record councillors Hum, Watts, Walker, Johns, Outhit and Harvey did not reply to our email.
As this strike drags on, it's hard not to notice the similarites with the strike that hit the Ottawa transit system a little more than three years ago.
On December 10, 2008, 2,300 drivers, dispatchers and mechanics at OC Transpo went on strike. The main issue - scheduling.
Here's an excerpt from a story written on day 39 of that strike - "Earlier in the week, striking transit workers spoke publicly about the scheduling issue, which remains at the heart of the debate. They told reporters that drivers should be able to continue to have a say over which shifts they work, based on seniority, in order to balance their work lives and family lives."
Sound familiar?
That strike lasted 51 days, and you guessed it, only ended when both sides agreed to go to binding arbitration. But they had to be dragged kicking and screaming to that settlement. They only agreed to it after the federal government (which has jurisdiction over OC Transpo) threatened back to work legislation.
The Dexter government has that same power, but so far is refusing to grab the hammer. A spokesperson for the Department of Labour confirms, again that at this point, the province has no intention of intervening.
But then again we're only at day 34.
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About the Author

Brian DuBreuil is a veteran journalist with CBC News. He has won two Gemini awards for his work, and neither involved dancing or singing on a reality show.

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