Monday morning round – up

Wonderful morning out there, rather ‘nippy’ if you catch my drift! It’s kind of funny how I cringe and freeze when the rain and wind are here, but now that it is sub-zero and bright, I love it! Different kind of cold, I guess, but I’ll take this over the rain any day.

First up this morning, is an update on the HandyDART strike. Yes, the union  and the company are returning to the bargaining table on Thursday, but many employees have contacted me with some unsettling questions surrounding the” pension” deductions the company had been taking off of their cheques. This excerpt from one employee email sums it up:

I work for HandyDart in Vancouver, and as you know we are currently on strike.

A couple of days ago John Siragusa said on the air( on CBC) that the union knew from the beginning that the pension was not on the table. This is a BALD FACED LIE.

We have a memorandum of understanding( MOU) signed by MV in late 2008 that they will honour previously existing contracts and will register for the MPP( municipal pension plan). When they did register for the MPP they asked for a temporary membership. MPP informed them that there is no such thing and invited them to apply for the usual membership.

MVT did not do that.

They told us that the deductions coming off our cheques were being put in a trust account, but until recently refused to tell us the financial institution holding the funds. They recently sent information to the executive which showed that low interest GIC’s had been purchased on NOVEMBER 6, 2009! ( There was no accounting sent as to what this money has been doing, since the date deductions were being made-the statement only shows an opening balance as of October 2009 –  l.y.)

Where has our money been between Jan 01 and Oct 01, 2009 ? What has happened to the interest that would have been earned during that period of time?

I also received this set of documents in questions from an anonymous source, and it states that the trustee for the funds is  a numbered company- 0843627 BC Ltd. The funds deposited were not put into interest bearing investments right away because  the MOU did not contemplate that this should be done. Interestingly enough, those funds were put into one year GIC’s in a series of transactions starting November 6th of this year!  The letter also states that an amount will be deposited equally the interest these funds would have earned had an investment been initially done. 

I have also come across a blog that has a number of allegations regarding the company that bear some investigation:

My hope is that for these workers, the issues before them can be worked out with the company on an equitable basis. It still tastes bad to me, however, that we continually seem to see American companies being contracted to more often in British Columbia. One would think part of keeping BC strong, would be to keep the money in BC.

Onto another labour dispute – it looks like gravel truck drivers will wait until after Christmas to decide what action to take in order to deal with the ever dropping gravel hauling rates  that owner-operators are facing. Teamsters president Don McGill says it looks like nothing short of an industry wide shutdown will be needed to rectify the situation, which is having a huge impact on truck safety as owners try to save money on maintenance just so they can stay in business. The dispute is the result of Port Mann Bridge contractor, Peter Kiewit and Sons, cutting the current rates they are paying gravel truck operators, from previously established  higher ones.  Stay posted in the New Year, as we could see construction grind to a halt on the Port Mann project.

Well here’s funny twist on things…. The BC  government issued a press release  last week (FRIDAY, by the way) because 4 of the provinces P-3 projects have been given national awards from the Canadian Council for Public Private partnerships.  

Which projects got the kiss of approval? The  Sea to Sky Highway, The Canada Line, The Golden Ears Bridge, and the Royal Jubilee Hospital Patient Care  centre. *Click on those links for a good read on those projects…. ; )

So,curious as ever to see who this ‘council’ is composed of, I clicked on the About Us link, and guess whose smiley face is the first thing I see? 

Gordon Campbell. Yes, our honourable premier is the  Honourary Chair. (Quite the profile…) But wait, it gets better. The board of directors,executive and members lists contain a veritable who’s who of Liberal business partners and contractors….which kinda-sorta-makes it look like all the people involved on the 4 winning projects just gave themselves a big award…

Now,isn’t that just grand? Good grief.

HandyDART update- November 20th 2009

**** Hello everyone, I’ve posted a more recent update at the following lik, one that should be read: Currently there is a media ban while negotiations are ongoing, but you can check out the handydart support facebook page listed below this post for more info and to give them your support. It’s going to be a tough Christmas for many workers, and handydart customers alike if this dispute does not reach conclusion.

Support for striking HandyDART workers has come from Gordon Wilson, who posted this on his Facebook account :

British Columbians have cause to be angry with what is transpiring in the HandyDart strike. Sadly, too many of us, pre-occupied with pressing events in our own lives, don’t really know the issues. If we did, I suspect that we would feel a collective shame at how this service has been allowed to deteriorate, and we would demand action from our elected representatives.
There are three reasons why British Columbians need to get engaged in this dispute. First, a society is judged by the manner in which we look after those who a generation ago looked after us. Second, society is judged by way we treat those who, for reasons beyond their control, need help and special services to assist them in living productive and inclusive lives. And, third, it is judged by way we look after the sick and infirm.
As a society we are failing on all three counts by ignoring the HandyDart strike.
There is something seriously wrong in a society that pays the guy who picks up your garbage and hauls it to the dump more than a person who, with care and patience, picks up your frail, aged mother, or your sister who needs dialysis, or your handicapped brother, and makes sure they get to their medical appointment and home safely. Similarly, there is no rational explanation why a transit bus driver in West Vancouver should make, on average, $8 dollars more an hour to drive a scheduled route than an individual earns who picks up passengers at the doorstep and not only transports the passenger, but helps him or her on and off the bus, keeps an eye out for possible medical issues while in transit, sees him or her safely home, and in some cases cleans up after them. And yet, wage is not the critical issue for most drivers in this dispute.
To be sure, the drivers are angry that their pension and benefits will be removed and replaced with an RRSP and self subscribed benefit schemes. Who wouldn’t be angry? An RRSP is not a pension plan, and the provision of benefits as part of an employment contract is something that millions of Canadian workers enjoy. It is also a fundamental part of the Canadian commitment to accessible and affordable health and dental care. But then, one wouldn’t expect an American company to understand any of that, which brings me to the second point of concern.
The Translink Board awarded the management contract for HandyDart, which is worth $113 million of your tax dollars, to the highest bidder. That bidder was an American for-profit company called MVT Canadian Bus. This company has become known as the Walmart of transit companies. It is profit-driven, service-lean and the eight managers in the United States keep a close eye on the company bottom line. In some economic sectors, squeezing deliverables to increase profitability would be a worthy goal, but not taxpayer-funded, specialized, public transit services for the vulnerable in our society. In the past, the HandyDart services were run by non-profit societies within our communities, and any surplus or profit would flow back to the society, keeping your tax dollars at home. MVT Canadian Bus takes our money south of the border.
There is a growing trend in this province, supported and encouraged by the Campbell government, to put a new and very different priority to the spending of our tax dollars. More and more “crown corporations” are being hived off to become pseudo-private corporations, with recruited American CEOs who enjoy huge wages fully paid for by our tax dollars. They bring with them an American corporate culture that pays the top management first and is prepared to trim service to afford it. Witness the ridership bonus in the MVT contract with Translink that builds in financial reward by keeping riders on the bus longer. If you are a dialysis patient, the last thing you need after treatment is to be kept on the bus for additional hours, and yet that is exactly what is happening.
This situation is a shameful example of the slow change in the priorities of the provincial government, and yet with a complacent population and a weak, silent opposition, this is just the beginning.
With the Olympics and Paralympics a few short weeks away, expect that the government will legislate the HandyDart drivers back to work. Expect also that they will do to these drivers what they did to the Ambulance service, namely, legislate the last offer by the Employer, and by so doing, cause this service to erode even further.
These men and women need and deserve our support. Contact your MLA and demand that he or she rise up and speak out in favour of a full and fair binding arbitration that will take into account the real issues of this dispute. Write to the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition, but above all, educate yourself. When you do, I am sure you will be as angry and concerned as I am that we not lose this valuable service. Our voices together may help to solve this issue, and avoid the collective shame that doing nothing will invoke.

I’ve posted about this dispute over the last month, here,and in the post titled ” HandyDART dispute adds to growing discontent in the BC labour force”, where I talk about the growing possibility of a general strike in British Columbia,( more on that HERE )  and there is a comment stream on both worth checking out.

Tensions boiled over yesterday when striking workers tried to force their way into a downtown hotel where Metro mayors and Translink officials were meeting, in an effort to try and get the officials to pressure their employer to agree to binding arbitration. The move was not succesful.

I’d say that MVT is banking on the fact that with colder, wet weather coming, as well as Christmas, the union will cave in and accept the last offer that was on the table. After all, MVT is hardly losing out in this dispute!

I’d like to add something to this mix now. In looking around at various media sources, it seems that I have read operations CP John Siragusa state several times that their company has never had a labour dispute in their 35 year history, in the US.

I guess Mr. Siragusa forgot about the 2007 strike in New York city where MV Transportation drivers were among those from 4 transportation companies that provided paratransit services to New Yorkers, and walked out aftercontract talks broke down.   I’ve included the links to those stories to refresh his memory, in the event he reads this.

And interestingly enough, I wonder if the fact that Tom Prendergast, now departed CEO of Translink, had anything to do with the contract being awarded to this company at all, considering local non-profit organizations had been running it for years. After all, coming from New York, Tom would  likely have been familiar with MV Transportation, which is the US’s largest provider of paratransit services.

MV Transportion, the American parent company to the local MV Canadian Bus, has not been a stranger to complaints about some of it’s nation wide contracts.  This link was one I posted as a comment in one of the previous HandyDART post,but let’s take a closer look at it. Excerpts:

A review of news reports and lawsuits in other jurisdictions, as well as interviews with paratransit riders and advocates, suggests that along the way to becoming the country’s largest provider of paratransit services, MV Transportation has not always put passengers first.


Wendy Klancher, a transportation planner at the federally designated planning agency for the D.C. metro area, has heard similar stories. She calls MV “the Wal-Mart of paratransit.”

“Their modus operandi,” she says, is “to be the low-bid contractor and outbid the other competitors and then actually end up getting more money because it turns out they can’t operate within the bid.”

Moeller said her experience with the company in Calfornia fit the pattern. “Immediately after getting the bid, they started cutting services because they couldn’t afford to keep up with the contract,” she said.

In Washington D.C., MetroAccess ended up spending over $6 million on top of MV’s original $204 million contract, to help them maintain standards of service, according to Klancher and published reports.

Enough said.

The HandyDART workers have a facebook support group at

HandyDART update

I took a look in my email box last night, and decided it was time to clean house and do a little round up and review of issues and stories from the last while. So, over today and tomorrow, there will likely be a series of posts so I can tidy up things a bit.

First off, I received an update from one of the striking HandyDART employees who tells me that the union, ATU local 1724,  asked the company- MVT Canadian Bus for binding arbitration, but the company has now rejected that idea.

Striking workers are now asking their riders and the public for support in pressuring Translink to persuade MVT to agree to arbitration.  Because Translink only pays MVT for the trips they actually provide, Translink is actually saving money as the strike continues. And interestingly enough, when you look at how the company operates, it would appear they may have little motivation to settle with the workers, because they don’t even own the HandyDART vehicles or pay the rents on depots – Translink does!  In essence, MVT is only having to continues to pay managers salaries,and doesn’t have to worry about lost money on idle vehicles or empty properties. 

The parent company, California based, MV Transportation Inc, bills itself as the largest provider of paratransit in the U.S.