Apparently our nine-year-old bus thief did a stellar job navigating a couple of narrow streets, without doing extensive damage to parked vehicles, before being apprehended.
It is rumoured the joke around the transit facility is that they should hire the kid, as he wouldn’t need much training. Oh well, black humour is better than no humour at all.
While recently visiting with neighbours and their guest, the conversation rolled around to the grand theft bus story. After discussing the absurdity of the situation, my neighbour’s guest had the courage to confess that he was a bus driver. And so the stories began.
I asked the driver what would happen to the person responsible for leaving the bus running and unattended. To my amazement, he responded that they always leave diesel buses running during cold weather when stored outside because if they didn’t these old buses might not start in the morning. Perhaps he was just pulling my leg.
I have never liked the idea that unionized labour could hold service to the public hostage to unreasonable contract demands, but if management is also unreasonable then they share blame in the hostage scenario. I asked my new friend if he thought a contract settlement was obtainable. He basically said that as long a garbage truck drivers earned more money than bus drivers, probably not.
Again, I thought he was pulling my leg. When I checked with the City, garbage truck drivers earn $25.25 an hour. Currently, bus drivers earn $23.85 an hour. And if they had accepted the city’s “final offer,” their wages would increase to about $24.98 an hour. We do have to ask ourselves whether hauling human cargo is as valuable a position as hauling refuse. I am not stumping for this union, but this alone is an understandable argument for rejecting the offer. Take it a step further, and although it relates to a provincial union, liquor board store employees can earn in excess of $30 an hour.
My new friend said they were asking for 95 per cent of the Western Canadian average wage for bus drivers. He quoted a dollar amount, but I couldn’t get that or any amount from the City. It was implied that we shouldn’t necessarily be comparing ourselves to Alberta and elsewhere. What? How many times have top city management employees and councillors used wage comparatives to Alberta and elsewhere when justifying their remuneration packages?
Speaking of which, it is council that gives the approval to the final settlement offer. It is a rhetorical question, but is it hard for bus drivers to accept a final offer from the very folks who earn more money and perks for their part-time council jobs than bus drivers get for their full-time employment?
We heard tales of drivers having to eat while driving, being spit on and suffering verbal abuse by transit users, unreasonable split shifts, difficulty in meeting scheduling timelines due to traffic congestion and the suggestion of management putting obstacles in the way of union voting. If any of this is even marginally true, it certainly elicits some sympathy for the drivers.
The issue on changes to their pension plan is a stickler for transit workers. It is understandable, given the increased cost of living in Saskatoon. On a bus driver’s wages you might not be able to put much into an RRSP to cushion your retirement. This is one issue this union will not win, as apparently all the other unions have agreed to the pension changes. And the City does have to deal with pension liabilities.
It sounds like morale is low in the transit world and respect for transit management is at the bottom of the barrel. My friend told me that some managers are bus drivers promoted from the rank and file. While on-the-job experience is valuable, does it give these promoted employees management skills? The skill point was tested recently when public complaints about over-crowded buses during peak hours earned a transit official’s response that perhaps the public should catch an earlier or later bus. Shouldn’t management’s response have been about improving service?
Councillors are gnashing their teeth as the impasse grows. Coun. Charlie Clark laments that the public will lose confidence in the transit system. This implies that the public has confidence in our transit system. Coun. Troy Davies is concerned that the public will get back in their cars and it undermines everything they are trying to do with transit. This implies that transit use was on the increase rather than in decline. And just what is it that the City is trying to do with transit? And, of course, Coun. Zach Jefferies points to the fact that the provincial government does not contribute to the cause, although the provincial government does share tax revenue with the city, but it allows council to use the tax-revenue sharing as it deems fit. Perhaps the provincial government should be enveloping this money and directing how it should be spent.
Of course, cost is the root of all contract negotiations. Transit currently employs 17 journeymen mechanics and eight apprentices, and is looking to hire more. If they weren’t buying 20-year- old buses, would the current number of mechanics, or maybe fewer, be sufficient to service a fleet of 150 newer buses? Would newer buses mean less idling time and thus fuel savings? And any employer will attest that having a disgruntled workforce will negatively impact your business. Good employers know that wages are not the only thing that keeps employees content and productive. Respect and appreciation for the job done is what makes any employee go the extra mile.
You can plan for a utopian transit system, but if both management and labour cannot see service to the public as the essence of their being, this broken system will not be fixed.
NOTE: In an earlier article relating to the number of bridges in Calgary, I used incorrect information. When the correct number is ascertained a correction will be forthcoming. Thank you to readers for bringing this to my attention.