HandyDART update- November 20th 2009
**** Hello everyone, I’ve posted a more recent update at the following lik, one that should be read: https://lailayuile.wordpress.com/2009/12/07/monday-morning-round-up/ 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 : http://www.facebook.com/gordon.f.d.wilson?v=app_2347471856
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.
The HandyDART workers have a facebook support group at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=308711650295&ref=mf