“It is good that a prolonged bus strike has been averted in Worcester. But the question is: at what price?
[The] one-day strike, staged by the local chapter of the Amalgamated Transit Union, AFL-CIO, was described as an “illegal” job action by Robert E. Ojala, administrator of the Worcester Regional Transit Authority. That may have been an understatement. The specter of labor action by this union has been lingering for some time. It threatened to picket the Worcester Centrum Centre during the Democratic State Convention, but a last-minute compromise negotiated by the city manager and the mayor saved the city from embarrassment.
Evidently, this time the union was determined to call a strike, no matter how flexible management has been. And management has been flexible to a fault. Some of the concessions the WRTA made to avert a strike – often under political pressure – are outright unreasonable. For example, it allowed the union to interfere with a sensible bus route consolidation plan to eliminate duplicate services. Ridership surveys indicated an average of four passengers on some of the disputed routes. The regional authority has every right – in fact, public responsibility – to make changes for efficiency.
There were other ridiculous ‘grievances’ as well. For example, the WRTA spent $ 500,000 to purchase state-of-the-art computerized fare boxes that provide electronic counting of passengers and cash. Because the new system involves pushing some buttons – and eliminates money-counting by hand, for which the drivers are paid extra- the union objected to the “smart” box – and prevailed.
In the end, the pretext for the strike was nothing short of absurd. It involved the case of a full-time bus driver whose job had been reduced to part time. The contract between the union and the transit authority specifies procedures for employment practices and grievance procedures to handle this kind of situation.
Christopher W. Bruce, business agent for the local, said ordinarily an individual worker grievance would not cause a unionwide job action – but union-management relations have deteriorated so much that ‘until we do something drastic, nothing happens.’ So the union decided to do ‘something drastic.’ Unfortunately, its bullying tactics succeeded.
Just as a federal judge was about to impose an injunction, sending the strikers back to work, labor-management talks resulted in more concessions. In the end, management pretty much caved. But then caving under labor pressure has become an ominous municipal practice in Worcester. For example, City Manager Thomas R. Hoover, who had ample time to wrap up new contracts with the public safety unions, found himself negotiating under threat by the police and fire unions to picket the Republican State Convention in Worcester. The unions got what they wanted.
Now the role of Mayor Raymond V. Mariano in ‘resolving’ the bus strike has come under scrutiny. Officials of the WRTA and area communities, which are served by the authority, are questioning what they consider undue interference by the mayor on behalf of the union.
No one wants strikes of public services. But there should be a lesson for public officials in this conflict: Making unreasonable concessions and giving up legitimate management prerogatives to buy ‘labor peace’ leads to even more outrageous demands. In the end, the public’s interest is jeopardized rather than protected.”