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Bus Riders Make Video in Support of Transit Workers

by Ben Sichel

See video

Social media was abuzz yesterday with criticism of striking transit workers' decision to block snowplows for 10 minutes. But some HRM residents instead went to the picket lines and made this video in an attempt to show support for the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 508, on strike since Feb. 2.

"The media is biased in favour of the city. The bus drivers do a fantastic job in serving the community. They work long shifts. They are constantly dealing with stressful situations. They get little recognition," said Alan Collins, who described himself as a frequent bus rider. 
 
"The Councillors at HRM do not care about the effects of the strike because they are not suffering. People with cars are doing fine. Low income people are taking the brunt and they have no voice."
 
The video was accompanied by the press release below, drafted by Liz MacDougall, also a resident supportive of the drivers.
 
The Amalgamated Transit Union has been at a distinct public relations disadvantage in the battle for HRM residents' support, as Metro Transit management has access to 39 taxpayer-funded city PR staff to spread its message. 
 
 
Why is there a bus strike?
As tax revenues decrease, monies available for public services are reduced. Governments at all levels may be feeling the squeeze but corporations are getting tax breaks and incentives while the public service sector is undergoing a massive devaluation. A commonly shared understanding of the effect of these cutbacks on society, especially those vulnerable due to poverty, illness, poor education and other kinds of disenfranchisement is lacking. Not only is the general public unaware, even union members don't fully appreciate how hard-earned the union-management configuration is as a structure that helps reduce economic disparity. Union busting is becoming normalised because the corporate sector has media support via their vast PR resources.So, supporting public service unions is not only about supporting workers. It is necessary for maintaining public services and a 'healthy' society. 
 
In this context, with the needs of their citizens at stake, the city took a heavy-handed approach to establishing new contract terms with Transit Employees. They chose to forego any process of negotiation and laid out a take it or leave it deal. Their approach has been tactical and strategic - not aimed at fairness and communication but at winning regardless of the resentment and dysfunction this may create.From what I've seen, the workers had the pick of two bad choices: to capitulate to an un-negotiated deal or strike and this hasn't changed. The city dictates today's deal.Even in principle the bus drivers made the better choice. Simply for their approach to this conflict the city should be resisted. The city may have banked on the public being against the drivers and while this may be true, it has not prevented a strike, it has impeded the provision of badly needed services, and their rationale has never justified their actions.  
 
Further, they want concessions from the bus drivers that do not make sense.The transit workers have no hierarchy in pay scale. There is no financial ladder to climb. A first year driver is paid the same figure as a 20 year driver. Seniority is experienced through having first choice of shift for a three month period. If the city wants to deny the drivers the option to buy in to their work process the reason should be to offer them a better option.The lack of commitment to negotiate fairly for the year leading up to this time is one - inept as strategy, two- undemocratic and three - makes a mockery of the expectation of contract negotiation.
 
We, the general public need to pressure the city to consider a proper negotiating strategy as soon as possible. I see it as the only way to end the strike, restore services and support democratic practices on the part of government.

 

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