Friday, 17 April 2015

The Referendum

As expected, ATU members have voted down the latest contract offer from the City of Ottawa. I wrote earlier this week about the tumultuous relationship between ATU president Craig Watson and his membership, and it seems as if my prediction was accurate.

I don't feel good about being right.

The meetings to present the contract were awful. Folks were angry and vocal, and the presentation soon became secondary to the incendiary language that degenerated into finger waving and shouting.

Througout all of this, the one theme remained constant.

Drivers were not voting on the city's offer.

Drivers were voting in a referendum on Craig Watson's presidency. For all of the rhetoric about procedure, and secrecy, and leverage, it still boiled to the stroppy masses making heated and ridiculous statements against the lightning rod on the roof of the Union Hall. This isn't the first secret negotiation, nor is it the first time the executive has disagreed with the negotiating committee. It is however the first time I've seen it this bad.

Strangely enough,  Mr Watson's media release on the voting results to the membership seemed quite ununionlike, choosing to apologize to the city and warn members of the future of regret they are about to face, a far cry from the usual labour position that a union might conceed after a contract rejection, namely that most unions would say that they would would consult the membership and try again, and it would usually be signed "In solidarity". The usual union rhetoric was absent, and read more like a concession than a directive on negotiating. ATU has always sent out a rally cry after a contract has been rejected.

Mr Watson's letter to his membership was a scolding that punctuated his strained relationship with the membership.

I think that at this point, if I were president, I would respect the decision of  this referendum, and step down for the solidarity of the membership.

The good news for everyone is that ATU elections are coming soon, in June I believe, and all of this infighting should be over. The current CBA lasts through April 2016, and if the city were to table another offer before then, I can only imagine that members would be much more open to actually reading an offer produced by a different executive.

I feel with great certainty that the membership is in a very peaceful relationship with the City, and that the appetite for the kinds of changes that lead to job actions are simply not present in 2015.

I also believe that many in the membership are deeply sorry to have thrust internal issues into the well being of our transit ridership.

This is the last time I write about union politics.

Thanks for your ear.

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