Transit Strike Over – Nagging Questions Remain

(l. to r.) ATU local 170 president André Cornellier, international ATU vice president Randy Graham, Ottawa mayor Larry OBrien

(l. to r.) Amalgamated Transit Union local 170 president André Cornellier, international ATU vice president Randy Graham, Ottawa mayor Larry O'Brien

Fifty-one days after it began, a public transit strike in Ottawa has ended.  Or at least will end in all likelihood after City Council and union membership endorse an agreement worked out by management and labour yesterday after five hours of talks.  The agreement sends all outstanding issues to binding arbitration with both sides’ having dropped their pre-conditions for such a course of action.  This is exactly what federal mediators had proposed to both sides on the very first day of the strike some seven weeks ago.  The agreement was only reached after the federal Minister of Labour had prepared emergency back-to-work legislation that she was to introduce in Parliament last evening.

The strike caused a great deal of inconvenience to commuters, some of whom had to find alternate means of getting to and from work — traffic was highly congested and parking spaces downtown were at a premium (difficult to find and costly).  More serious, the strike had a severe impact on the most vulnerable in society, especially the sick and elderly.  I leave to others to comment on the strike itself and its resolution.  I’m more interested in what happened (or didn’t happen) in the mediation process, kind of a debriefing of what worked and what didn’t work.  Trouble is that these things are known to only those present.  (The thorniest issue was the technical matter of shift scheduling: interested readers can consult the union’s position and the city’s position on the matter.)

Nonetheless, I’m going to pose my questions to the mediators:

  1. what approach to mediation was used: interest-based; evaluative; facilitative?
  2. was it a top-down process driven by the mediators or bottom-up driven by the parties?
  3. how directive was the mediation? did that help or not?
  4. were ground rules set down? if so, what were they? whose ground rules were they: the parties or the mediators? what happened to the ground rules? were they helpful?
  5. what opportunity was given to the negotiators (both sides used professional negotiators) to express their goals and concerns, how they each saw the situation, how they wanted to handle it, and how they saw each other and each other’s goals/concerns? and
  6. why weren’t the parties ready to move to their own decision-making about working together short of the threat of back-to-work legislation?

The comments of readers from near and far are welcome!

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