To be specific, the Chambers are calling for the Ontario government to do two things.
First, to reform the current process for resolving public-sector labour disputes through binding interest arbitration, so arbitrators will be required to consider economic facts about the affected municipality and the potential impact on other services when deciding on amounts to award; and
These changes would have two effects. First, transit workers across the province would lose their right to strike, meaning there would be almost no chance of seeing a repeat of the three-month strike that so terribly inconvenienced York Region riders last winter. Second, and as a result, future disputes between transit workers and employers would automatically be settled through binding arbitration, an approach that was considered by councillors here during the recent strike but ultimately rejected by Regional Council (correctly, in my view).
The Chambers are aiming to eliminate the risk of disruption to business caused by transit strikes, while constraining the additional tax burden on business owners and residents this might impose. To better explain their motivation it will help to give a bit of background.
Neutral Resolution Process
Binding interest arbitration is a process sometimes used to resolve labour disputes. Normally, a striking union will continue to negotiate directly with its employer in the hopes of reaching an agreement. If this fails and the negotiation reaches a standstill, the dispute may instead be sent to binding arbitration. This can happen by mutual agreement of the two parties, or it can be imposed by the government (typically as part of
With binding arbitration both sides place the dispute in the hands of a third party, which reviews the claims made by both sides and prepares a resolution that aims to yield a fair compromise. This resolution, once released, is binding—both parties in the dispute must abide by the arbitrator's decision, even if they are not entirely happy with it.
Arbitration can be an attractive solution as it promises to resolve a dispute quickly and in a way that respects the concerns of both sides. For this reason arbitration is often called for (or imposed) in a labour dispute that has dragged on and become costly either in financial terms or in terms of sheer inconvenience.
For people who believe (as I do, and as apparently the Chambers of Commerce do) that a reliable transit system is important to our communities, making transit an essential service can sound like a great idea: By preventing transit workers from striking and requiring labour disputes be sent to binding arbitration, the reasoning goes, we'll be making big strides in improving the predictability and practicality of public transit. But this carries some risks as well, and it is for this reason the Chambers are insisting on reforms to the arbitration process before seeing transit declared an essential service. To understand their concerns, we need to take a look at a bit of history.
To be continued in a second part.