As with all previous surveys OC Transpo has completed over the years, the main finding on both the customer and employee side was that unrealistic schedules and running times were the biggest problem with the delivery of service.
Passengers felt that OC should only promise what they can realistically deliver. Operators felt that unrealistic running times and inadequate recovery times were the biggest source of stress in their working lives and the main barrier to being able to provide quality customer service.
Another finding was that some employees weren't happy with their work schedules.
Apparently, this was the issue that management decided to run with.
Management conducted a detailed analysis of the type of work that operators choose and broke it into percentages (X amount of operators pick straight runs, x amount of operators choose to work split shifts outside a 12 hour spread, etc.)
Based on this data, they slapped together a mock booking in time to present it to the Union executive on November 25th, 7 months into contract negotiations. To the surprise of the Union, it was made a "take it or leave it" issue by the City's bargaining team of which Alain Mercier is a part.
The problem is the methodology used to construct the mock booking voids all of the data that that they collected from the old scheduling system. The structure of the work has been completely altered.
There are fewer total and types of straight runs, the straight runs are mostly longer than 8 hrs (not something everyone wants) and, according to the methodology, will be interlined extensively with less recovery time. The current interlining of bus routes wastes fuel by sending buses empty randomly all over the place and causes a snowball effect of lateness throughout the city whenever there are disruptions in one or more service areas. Most drivers on straight runs prefer to drive just one route of their choosing instead of 3-8 per day. Interlining also reduces recovery time ("breaks" for bus operators). Operators are driving empty between routes on their down time instead of taking a break.
The majority of the now assembled split shifts are at the extreme of the 13.5 hours spread with lots of split shifts finishing in the 7:30-8:30 PM range (currently split shifts finish in the 6:00-7:30PM range). There are many night time split shifts (finishing as late as 2:30 AM) which never existed before. The whole idea behind split shifts previously was to cover the extra buses needed during the morning and afternoon rush hours. Why split shifts at night? There are even 3 piece shifts where you are on 3 different buses over 13.5 hours almost straight through. Many straight runs have been cut into split shifts that have 10-15 minutes between the two pieces. This is the "quality" recovery time that management wants to provide: Pack up your stuff, walk over to the spot to meet your next bus, wait 5-7 minutes, start back up again.
The new structure of the split shifts will also negatively alter the quality of work for spares (those who replace operators who call in sick). Many senior operators who currently work spare will move over to doing straight runs which will have a ripple effect of bumping a lot of people off the type of work they like to do.
Because of the new maximum 14 hr driving time, 8 hr work rest rules the City wants to introduce and the length of the straight runs, it will be nearly impossible for operators to be "rested" enough to cover any overtime. This could mean many more long waits and overcrowded buses for riders due to cancelled trips and will eventually lead to the City attempting to justify hiring casual workers.
Operators currently have work exchanges where they can give away work to take days off without pay instead of calling in sick or, conversely, pick up an extra shift at straight time. These work rest/daily maximum rules will largely eliminate this practice as well. It is a system which is beneficial to both workers and management and came out of the same process that brought in the flexible scheduling system.
Alain Mercier addressed council last Friday night and took out his statistics that were gathered on operator work preference (based on the current booking system). He told our learned friends on council that based on his statistics, the new scheduling system was exactly what operators had asked for in consultations and that they were misinformed by the Union. In the past, he has said that these scheduling changes will only affect 200 of the 1600 operators. He said that overtime has increased by 400% since the current scheduling system was put in place in 1999. He also said that OC Transpo was not following Federal safety standards for work rest rules for commercial vehicles.
What he didn't tell council is that operators know that most of them will no longer be able to pick the type of work that they like to pick now.
The junior drivers that currently work short 6 (only 2 days off every 2 weeks) know that they will be getting a 3rd day off every 2 weeks, but at the expense of working until 7:30-8:30 PM every day instead of 6:30PM.
The operators that currently choose to work outside the 12 hour spread do so because it carries the incentive of 7:01 of driving time paying 8 hours. They will no longer want to work outside of the 12 hour spread when they have to work 8 hrs in the seat to get paid for 8 hrs.
Many operators that currently work straight runs will be forced on split shifts.
Operators that work early straights (working a straight shift anywhere between 5 AM and 4 PM) will mostly be forced to work a long day with a 5th day off every 2 weeks. Driving a bus can be exhausting, not everyone wants to do 9-10 hrs straight in the seat. Operators will now have to work many more years before they can book these desirable shifts.
Operators that like to work late straights (starting after 9 AM, finishing before 9 PM) are out of luck. They are all gone.
Operators that work nights have had their choices cut considerably due to the night time split shifts on which some will be forced to work.
As far as overtime goes, transit doesn't run without it. Anytime there is inclement weather, traffic, a major event, there are major overtime costs for transit. As well, OC Transpo's staff, fleet and complement of service have grown considerably since 1999 when the current scheduling system was introduced. Did anyone ask Alain Mercier to break down the supposed 400% increase in overtime? How much was due to expansion, how much had to do with maintenance and having a more labour intense low-floor bus fleet? Most importantly, how much was really due to "abuse" of the current scheduling system? Is there really any abuse of the system at all?
What we do know is that management claims its new scheduling system is "projected" to save 3.4 million dollars per year. Since a large amount of those savings come from doing more work with fewer buses and drivers, we can only assume that there is very little overtime waste under the current system. The cost of whatever waste that there has been has been borne by the operators who have been paid less than their peers in other cities since 1999 in exchange for flexible work scheduling.
We also know that neither Ontario nor Federal commercial vehicle work rest rules apply to municipal transit. The City of Ottawa and its predecessor RMOC have encouraged short turn-arounds for operators since OC Transpo was created. Why the sudden concern with safety? The Union was the first of the two parties to propose work-rest rules and the City hasn't addressed any of the Union's other serious safety concerns.
In corresponding with councilors over this issue, 3 things have become clear: The councilors don't know why the current booking system was put into place and how it has been funded, they don't understand either the current booking system or the one which is proposed and they completely believe Alain Mercier's side of the story.
The current scheduling system took nearly 2 years to assemble. A reasonable amount of time needs to be afforded to build a better one, a system that meets the needs of all stakeholders.
Let's get back to management's customer and employee survey for a moment. Remember that both customers and employees overwhelmingly identified unrealistic schedules/running times as the number one problem at OC Transpo?
How does this new scheduling system work to improve the situation?
Doing the same work with fewer buses and operators, increased interlining, shorter recovery times, increased potential for cancelled trips, drivers that are more rested in one way and less in another?
Management has not listened to customers and employees, quite the opposite. These changes will make the situation worse.
OC Transpo employees have overwhelmingly told Alain Mercier twice that they fully understand the implications of the new scheduling system and it is not what they want, no matter what his statistics say. This despite being without pay for weeks and being offered a handsome financial package.
It is time for OC Transpo's customers, local businesses and progressive minded taxpayers to tell the Mayor, the councilors and Alain Mercier that it is not what they want either.
End this strike NOW!