Why the Transit Strike Matters
Alexis Ola Zygan // Contributor
Unions were formed in 1873 to ensure worker rights, to provide work-life balance and fair working conditions. Ever since then, union workplaces have had limited turnover and formed a better and happier working environment for both the boss and the staff. Statistically, shorter work weeks lead to more productivity and satisfaction. I advocate for unions’ capacity to empower employees.
When the transit strike began, they chose to intensify action progressively. They started by stripping themselves of their uniforms, which represents their image and offers a sense of consistency for the customer. The symbolism behind the act epitomizes the absence of pride and loyalty towards Translink. Some drivers wore Union41 t-shirts in support of the job action. They employed the escalation as a way to get customers informed. Others organized collectively at Skytrain stations to make the public aware of the rationale behind their demonstration. As customers, we build a relationship with our driver, often taking the same route every day.
We depend on operatives to deliver us to our destinations. They are an integral part of our transportation ecosystem. Without them, we could be stranded at home, or potentially walking up to three hours to our destination across bridges, through tunnels, and on overpasses.
A collective experience for passengers is calculating if the bus is arriving five minutes early or late. The rider is stuck in the cold, rainy, windy weather refreshing the Translink app for an updated schedule. Drivers are forced to meet an agenda that has not been updated with the changing structure of our roads. As a result, the app states the bus is zero minutes away. But, as you peer into the distance, the ride you have been expecting is nowhere in sight. When passengers are late, in some cases, they let out their frustration on the bus driver. Which in turn, forces the operant to choose between kicking the abusive passenger off the vehicle or ignoring the mistreatment to ensure all the other passengers arrive at a prompt hour.
A Facebook post by a bus driver’s wife said that most drivers do not have the luxury of fifteen-minute and thirty-minute breaks, even though, statistically, employees are more productive when they get a fifteen-minute break every fifty-two minutes. I supported the drivers’ strike for better rights and working conditions because everyone deserves bathroom breaks. No CEO of a company deserves to get paid more than the prime minister. Maybe, if the CEO did not have a vehicle paid for by his hefty salary, he would be able to see for himself the issues faced by both the drivers and riders of the transit system. At the end of the strike escalation, bus operants were planning to walk out for three days.
Thankfully, the union and TransLink were able to reach a last-minute agreement, minimizing the tension already experienced by stressed-out students in their last week of school. Another last minute deal was arranged between SkyTrain workers and the union a few weeks later. The possibility of a strike increases stress on commuters who are stuck as collateral damage for the misguided bureaucracy.
I’m glad they managed to consolidate an agreement. However, the limbo commuters were stuck in was unfair. It seems as though this tactic is part of a pattern that forces the two groups to work together to find a solution. Is shutting down and forcing riders to be the collateral fair? Not at all. Hopefully, workers and the union can maintain a fair agreement that ensures reduced overtime, which can burden families and restrict a balanced lifestyle. Work-life balance is statistically demonstrated to be vital for living a happy and healthy life.
When transit workers strike, the city may be in a state of chaos. However, without unions, the workers who spoke up about their concerns would probably get a notice of dismissal. Unions ensure that the workforce can speak candidly with no fear of reprimand. I stand with them, out of respect for the transit operators who are in charge of transporting 15.9 million people every day. For the sake of all parties involved, I hope that we all remember that workers deserve better working conditions and more time for enjoying life. What is the point of working 40 hours a week if you cannot enjoy the luxury of free time.