Transit strike over… for now

05.25.07

After four days of commuting hassles, headaches and havoc, the STM Maintenance Union has voted to end the strike and go back to work voluntarily, rather than face a possible government directive to do so that would likely come coupled with imposed settlement terms.

But it ain’t over till it’s over. The union and the STM haven’t agreed to anything yet, and the union hasn’t ruled out a second strike, either, if they don’t get their way.

The four-day strike has already cost the city countless amounts of money: Cancelled events, employees arriving late or leaving early, closed shops and businesses, traffic congestion, pollution, not to mention inconveniencing the people who rely on public transit the most: students, seniors, immigrants, low-income earners, and a whole host of others who aren’t lucky enough to have the maintenance workers’ cushy pay, perks, job security and pension. While rush-hour commuters only had to pack themselves into buses and metros like sardines, anyone needing to go anywhere outside of the hours deemed “essential” was SOL. About the only people happy with the strike were the taxi drivers.

For our troubles, monthly transit pass holders *might* get a measly $3.50 refund for our May passes… possibly by September. Whoop-dee-doo. That won’t even cover one day of extra gas spent driving instead of busing (at $1.20 a litre, I might add), never mind extra parking, taxis and lost work hours. If they expect me to do a little happy dance at this, they’ll be waiting a while. And I’m one of the lucky people who *had* options during the strike. Thousands upon thousands of others didn’t.

On principle I’d blame the union for holding the public hostage in order to try to extort more money out of the city. But of course, self-interest is a universal principle, and it’s hard to expect unions not to take advantage of these possibilities when they’re given the legal right and the clout to do so. After all, from their point of view, why shouldn’t they?

Nor can I really blame the city. I’m not a fan of Tremblay at all (needless to say), but I think he’s right to refuse to cave in here. This is the first of a whole series of city contracts that need to be negotiated, and if every union gets everything it asks for, Montreal will go broke and taxes will skyrocket.

No, on the whole, this public transit strike – the 15th in the past 40 years – just illustrates too clearly that the system is broken. If public transit is to be encouraged, it has to be reliable. Public transit, for most users, implies the ability to earn a livelihood, and as such, is just as essential a service as healthcare, education, police and firefighting.

It seems to me that there are two choices:

(1) Truly designate all public transit – not just transit for the 9-to-5ers – essential, and not allow transit workers to strike.

(2) Partially privatize public transit and open it up to competition, allowing more than one company to provide services.

Both options are fraught with problems. But I’m sick and tired of being told that I should stop being an evil anti-environmentalist and turn in my Civic for a bus pass, only to be left high and dry. I’m pretty sure most Montrealers feel the same way.

And if they strike again, I say fire ’em all à la Reagan and just hire replacements. I’m pretty sure my friend’s cat could lick some of the graffiti off the sides of busses. And she works for catnip.

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