There’s Us, Them, And Then There’s The Other


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A picture of a Grand River Transit bus taken by Calvin So and posted on Flickr. If the union strikes, the transit system will indeed be “Out Of Service”, with the poor, seniors, physically challenged, and infirm being the most affected..

Update: an agreement was reached at 2:30 a.m., well past the March 20th midnight deadline as both sides went into overtime to accomplish this.

While the strike has been averted, at least for the next three years, the importance of public transit for the more vulnerable members of our society cannot be dismissed. It is for this reason I urge the Region of Waterloo council to debate a motion to have the Grand River Transit system deemed an essential service. While the next contract negotiations won’t take place for another three years, the time to discuss this proposal is now

WARNING: LANGUAGE

My decision not to learn to drive came from several reasons.

The first reason was because I was born in and lived most of my life in Toronto. Toronto has a very large transit system that can get you nearly anywhere within the city. I know I sometimes rag on it, but you can’t beat unlimited transit  for the cost of a monthly transit pass.

I’ve also seen how some of you drive from the safety of my bus seat. Some of you should NOT be driving at all and instead use public transit. Seriously.

Finally, driving is expensive. I know you car owners out there love your comfy heated seats, preset  radio stations, and your personal space to sing and fart in, but you’ll agree with me that it’s not cheap. Tally the total cost of driving — driving lessons (admittedly a one time deal), purchasing the vehicle, gas, insurance, general maintenance after a few thousand clicks, the odd repair, tire changing and storage, emission tests, and oh yeah, that sticker you have to put on your plates — and it’s a big bite out of the budget even if you are working full-time. If you are working part-time or not at all, it’s either THE budget or a non-starter. If you cannot afford it,  you either take transit, bicycle, or walk.

I know that my decision not to learn to drive has hurt me, even before I ended up in the sorry hell I’m in now with no full time work, very little money and a future in doubt. I couldn’t go to the cottage or anywhere else with my friends or family if it was outside the city. I instead had to take a taxi, a intercity bus, or a train.

Then there were the transit strikes. Hoo-fucking-ray.

Before the TTC was declared an essential service (where the union could not strike), strikes were a pain in the ass. When I was working full-time, I had to take a taxi to work during a strike. Since my employer was not going to pay for the taxi (obviously), I charged the rides to my credit card and dealt with the charges after the strike was over. It was a headache, but I had a job that paid very well. I couldn’t imagine how those less fortunate than I managed during a strike….at least until now.

I’m no longer in Toronto. I now live in Kitchener where the Grand River Transit system is NOT an essential service and Unifor Local 4304 has threatened to walk March 19th at midnight if their union demands are not met. If they strike, it is a massive hit for me for several reasons.

I go to the Kitchener Public Library to use the WiFi and computers to conduct a job search six days a week. A transit strike does not dismiss my obligation to return to financial self reliance and sustainability that can only come from a job search but I don’t have Internet where I live: I can’t afford it. I could use a coffee shop WiFi but I’m sure they won’t let me stay there for too long even if I do buy something. I also go to the library for books, CDs, DVDs, and to meet with my social worker to discuss my unemployment and housing issues. I could walk to the library but it would take me over half-an-hour to get there on foot, and, oh yes,  it’s winter as of this blog post. Having the union go on strike and shutting down transit would make accessing these services difficult, especially on days where the weather is bad.

With public transit, I also have the option to shop around and get a good deal for food — an absolute necessity when you are in my income bracket. If transit is stopped, not only will my choices be savagely cut, the amount of what I can carry — since I’m reduced to walking instead of riding a bus — will be impacted as well.

My biggest worry is how will I be able to do temp work and gigs on Kijiji and Craigslist during the strike. I’m scheduled to do inventory work at the end of March in Cambridge, which is too far to walk to. If the strike runs long enough, I’ll have to tell my contacts there I can’t work.  Not working means no wage. No wage means no money for food, dental, and other basic needs.

It’s not just about me though. What about those less fortunate than I who are physically challenged or blind? What about seniors? What about those who need to get to their appointments for dialysis, cancer treatment, or physiotherapy? Do we really think there’s going to be enough taxis to cover the slack? Is it fair to ask those same people to pony up money for the taxis — which they do not have — just because a union wants more money and the continuation of comfortable working conditions and benefit? Perks those in the private sector do not have due to downsizing and doing more with less in this Age of Austerity and the Jobless Recovery?

Doesn’t this smack just a teeny bit of greed through extortion of the poor?

Disputes between management and the unions have been around longer than I have. It’s an old story that has been told countless times, usually coloured by the portrayal of either the union or the management as “the good guy”.

The story  is not so binary in nature, however. Yes, there is an “us”, there is a “them”, but there’s also the “other”… those in the middle of the dispute who lose when caught in the crossfire yet gain nothing when it’s over. That part of the story has never been told because very little people know about it. Unless, of course, you happen to be someone like myself who consider transit as essential.

I really feel it’s time for all transit systems to become an essential service, not just the TTC and certainly Grand River Transit. Transit is a vital lifeline for those less fortunate in our society, and they should no longer be used as bargaining chips in labour negotiations.

Thanks for reading!

David.

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