Tuesday, 2 September 2014

A Labour Day Reflection

Labour Day is just an element of the last long weekend of summer to some, but it was created to celebrate the achievements of workers and the labour movement in Canada. This Labour Day weekend, I actually did reflect on a labour issue, a specific one that is currently impacting Toronto and Thunder Bay.

The New Flexity Outlook and Toronto Rocket vehicles
being manufactured by Bombardier in Thunder Bay.
On Monday, July 14, workers from Unifor Local 1075 walked off the job from a Bombardier manufacturing plant in Thunder Bay, the same one currently manufacturing new subway cars and streetcars for the TTC. As of today (Labour Day, September 1) the strike stands.

A lot of eyes are on this strike because of larger implications for labour across the country. Bombardier has made an offer that it believes is fair, and helps the company 'maintain competitive operating costs' so that they can continue to keep shop in Canada. Unifor has scoffed at this, saying the company has an 'arrogant attitude that people should be happy they are even employed', and accusing Bombardier of attacking workers' pensions (Further reading: Toronto Star).  It's a post-recession standoff between an argument of global corporate competitiveness, and an argument to protect Canadian labour benefits.

The reason I have my eyes on it, however, is that while this stand-off plays out, Toronto's transit future is caught in the middle.  While most of the new subway cars have been delivered and are running on Line 1, Toronto debuted two or three of the new streetcars into revenue service this morning on its 510 Spadina line.  These new streetcars are anticipated to vastly improve the capacity and operation of the streetcar system.  Riders will have more room. Boarding and de-boarding will be faster.  Bunching should be reduced.  Low-floors and ramps will make them accessible. It makes transit more attractive, and gets people out of their cars. It reduces congestion and the costs associated with it.

According to an outdated study constantly cited by Metrolinx and the Toronto Board of Trade put congestion costs at $6 billion in 2008, and that figure has been criticized for being low and not capturing the social cost it has on families and individuals. Nonetheless, that means that for every day the strike and other factors stalling Toronto transit progress continue, the economy loses at least $16.4 million. At least, per day.

That isn't an endorsement for either of the positions of Bombardier or Unifor. It's just a point. To add two more points, each day the strike continues is also a loss of wages for Unifor employees, and a mark against Bombardier's reputation on being able to deliver rapid transit products. 

To me, that sounds like a reason to keep talking at the table. A chance at achieving a win-win-win situation. And a chance to resolve what may be one of the most difficult labour strikes we have seen in recent times.