Sunday, April 27, 2008

Unions and Pragmatism

I don't understand the criticism of the "back to work" order issued today by the Ontario government, with the help of the NDP. I don't see it as anti-union, I see it as a pragmatic response to an untenable position. My view might be somewhat different, if not for the circumstances, but the poor choices here make my view pretty simple.

You go to work Friday night, maybe an office cleaner, whatever. You rely on this service, this is your only means of transportation, for many the only financial alternative. You finish your shift, it's time to go home, but alas, an out of nowhere strike and you are stranded. No notice, no consideration, no sense of responsibility, just "we" reject the offer, we're outta here. The kicker, no picket lines, no union members on the streets decrying the injustices of the man. No, the membership is home safe and sound, while the poor bastard stranded 8 miles from home is SOL.

Most people approach this strike, based on their own philosophical arguments on the relationship between worker and employer. Rights, protection, acknowledgement, power, I know it well, I've seen it first hand, in my younger days. I've always understood the spirit, although the relevance tends to lessen as labor laws entrench rights, new initiatives further tip the pendulum.

My view now is one of pragmatism. When I see what happens at Wal-Mart, I'm 100% pro-union. When I see pretty much unskilled workers making 60 grand, a boom benefit package, all the bells and whistles, working for an employer, the city, which is essentially broke, I tend to be more on the fence. When that union walks out, despite getting, from what I can see, a very progressive package, it makes me think this union has lost touch with reality. If this was a private company, the membership would be facing layoffs, there would be no leverage, because the company is in trouble. But, this isn't the case, because what cities provide, on many levels, aren't private services, but ESSENTIAL services. That's right, the workers have an artificial job security, a built-in protection, because they provide a service which is required, whether profitable or not. With that in mind, some consideration for the people affected, some responsibility should be in order.

You have to balance the rights of the workers, with the rights of citizens to depend on a service which is essential to them. This strike would most affect those without options, those people who least deserve another kick in the teeth, from people, who in reality, are ahead on the food chain. For that reason, I have no qualms with "back to work", the situation wasn't dire, the membership clearly not exploited or treated unfairly (when I look at the package, the first word that comes to mind is SWEET).

I'm a union pragmatist, a case by case stance, appreciating the need, applauding the ideal, but also able to separate a rose from a skunk. This strike, the way it was handled, the posturing, the reckless timing, I have no qualms saying the government and the opposition moved correctly.


Lord Kitchener's Own said...

Hear, hear.

Well said.

knb said...

I agree with you steve.

I'm not sure what criticism you are referring to, but the NDP is wound out of shape about deeming the TTC an essential service.

In this city, I think they may just have proved how out of touch they they are.

Anonymous said...

I am not criticizing the "back to work" order, my beef is with some progressive bloggers criticizing people clamouring that the TTC be made an essential service and taking away the unions' right to strike. The union membership has made its point, striking on Monday would cause major hassles. No way we can let university and college students miss their vital final exams.

Let us hope that we in Toronto have more pragmatic leadership in our City Council that can have a more forward looking labour relations policy. Many thanks to the McGuinty government for bailing us Torontonians out once again.

northwestern_lad said...

I'm a big union supporter (big suprise, huh???) and would fight back to work legislation in most cases, but not in this case. Even if they had given the 48 hours notice and such, there still would have been back to work legislation. This legislation was inevitable.

Also, I would say that while I understood the rationale behind doing what they did on Friday night, that once again doesn't mean that I agree with it. Being worried about the safety of your workers is legimate, especially given what they faced the weekend previous. But personally, when they made that original promise, couldn't they have foreseen that their workers would have been exposed to that kind of abuse for a couple of days regardless??? I would argue that the 48 hour promise was one that the union couldn't keep, and therefore never should have been made.

Either way, because of how this whole thing was botched, the NDP did the right thing here in supporting this legislation. I know that given the background of the people making that decision (I can help but think that Howie Hampton has spent more time on picket lines than i've actually been alive :) ), they took this decision with at least as much consideration as the union took theirs, and I know that the union didn't take their decision to strike lightly.

Mark Dowling said...


can you link to the criticism of the NDP? Failing to support the BTW bill would have been political suicide for Hampton.

I think it would be instructive for TTC users to pull the Legislative record for yesterday (do they call it Hansard in Ontario?) and look at McGuinty and Duguid droning on so they could make the news. With every minute without transit service crucial, McGuinty should have limited his remarks to "we know why we're here" and moved the bill, and Duguid to say nothing at all.

Anonymous said...

I think unions are necessary to a point - but they do not know when to stop. They want more and more and more.

Working conditions are not that bad in most places and I think they're running out of ideas for a reason to strike.

C'mon - they make good money, good benefits, etc - if they were reasonable okay, but what do they expect.

Don't you think that sometimes they could just appreciate how lucky they are? Be grateful to the taxpayers once in a while?

Steve V said...


I looked at some of the online commentary.

northwestern_lad said...

Mark... you can check out uncorrected proofs, he went after the NDP for this... Mind you, it should be pointed out that the author of that blog has it in for Howard Hampton, so take his words with a grain of salt.

Mark Dowling said...

thx NW Lad