Analysis of the weekend Miracle at One Carden Street

July 14,2014

They are making High Fives today in the Mayor’s office over the last minute agreement reached between the city and the Amalgamated Transit Union, representing the Guelph Transit workers.

There was a sudden transition on the part of the mayor. On Saturday, facing an angry crowd of unionists, she announced a lockout of workers effective Sunday at midnight. Then Sunday, the two parties reached an 11th hour settlement, less than 24 hours later. Could this have been a carefully orchestrated event?

The buses rolled out of the barn Monday morning as usual.

This kind of crisis-based political theatre is not new. It was revealed in a book entitled “Wag the Dog” written about the U.S. Presidential election of Bill Clinton by Joe Klein of Time Magazine.

There have been cases where a candidate sensing trouble, such as Guelph’s mayor, creates a crisis situation that threatens the public good to the extent of dire consequences.

It’s called the Jack Horner scenario. In this case, the city stuck in its thumb and pulled out a plum, an 11th hour agreement to stop a strike/lockout of transit workers.

In similar political cases it may be a phony war, or a confrontation that affects the public. It is any scenario that involves manipulating the media into believing there is a genuine crisis that involves physical confrontation, reproduced live on television.

In political life, timing is everything. This sudden agreement was executed on the weekend when the Guelph print media is dormant.

And it could have started with an agreement between two parties in advance.

Not convinced? Is it too farfetched? It remains a high stakes mystery that cannot be proven.

Why did the transit union wait until late Friday to ask the members to vote? Why did the union members vote 94 per cent in favour of a strike? This is a very high figure of rejection in conducting a member’s vote. On the surface, it is a total rejection of the city’s final offer. We also don’t know the percentage of members who voted out of the 210 in the Guelph ATU local. Yet, 24 hours later, there is a settlement.

The mayor holds a press conference at city hall on Saturday in which she is shouted down by transit workers and union supporters. The Kitchener CTV station attends, recording the confrontation.

Now she becomes the victim of rough union tactics. She retreats into the council chamber. The only news media that can report the event is the Kitchener TV outlet and local radio. The print media doesn’t publish on Sunday.

Then there is an unannounced Sunday meeting between the city and the union negotiators, assisted by a provincial mediator. Eureka! There is a tentative deal and the buses rolled Monday morning as if nothing happened.

Everyone’s happy. The mayor looks like she is firmly in charge. The union gets what it wanted. The transit public is relieved that they can take the bus to work.

Almost too perfect you think?

Let’s dig a little deeper.

The mayor depends on the union support to remain in office. But she has a serious problem that has caused her approval ratings to drop. Her handling of the Urbacon lawsuit, involving construction of the new city hall has become a serious obstacle to her re-election. Regardless of whom they blame for this multi-million dollar mistake, the buck stops with Mayor Farbridge.

The mayor and administration officials blamed others including former mayor, Kate Quarrie, for a “poorly written” contract. And, former Chief Administrative Officer, Hans Loewig, identified by his successor, Ann Pappert, as the guy who fired Urbacon without council’s approval. But the judge didn’t see it that way and said the city wrongfully dismissed Urbacon who sued for $19.2 Million.

So, what’s a mayor to do?

Was there collusion between the union and the city before the week-end? The evidence points to spending a year bargaining, then, within hours of a lockout, there is agreement. The optics are apparent. Mayor Farbridge’s dependence on support of the unions who represent 80 per cent of the city staff, could be endangered if the transit workers were locked out.

There is the alienation problem of other unionized workers who have done very well in the past eight years of the Farbridge administration. If she remained intransigent with the transit union, how is she going to approach bargaining within the other unions? This uncertainty presumably created a problem for the mayor’s re-election team.

As the saying goes: For every door that closes, another door opens.

The technique is called “wagging the dog”. Create a crisis then, solve it.

The question is what are the details of this new contract? Cleaner toilets? More time between stops? Bathroom breaks? Or, was it really about the money? No matter, this contract will be ratified before you can say: “I’d like to see that movie again.”

It’s all academic now. The buses are rolling.

The only dog that got wagged were the citizens of Guelph.



Filed under Between the Lines

7 responses to “Analysis of the weekend Miracle at One Carden Street

  1. Jerry

    I agree Gerry.More open and transparent government in Guelph.
    (sarcastic)Can’t wait for the election and get some people in office that a
    least holds a business degree to run this city.
    Hope everybody sees she is pulling a wynne maunoeuver.Apoligize for the
    mistakes of the past,ask for forgivness.Try to make her self look better than
    the other candidates and wait for them to make a blunder and get the voters in Guelph to put on the rose colored glasses.
    Problem is all the rose colored glasses in Guelph are all worn out from the
    tears from paying high taxes,high unemployment,urbacon lawsuit and on and on.
    Hope she has all the boxes packed ready to go after the election.
    See you all on election night.

  2. V

    I am late in reading this but that Friday date for the vote was a provincially mandated date not one the union chose. I am enjoying reading this website tho having just discovered it

  3. V

    Oh and the union didn’t vote to strike, there are 205 members and the vast majority of those voted. The actual numbers have been since published in the media.

    • V: The members of the ATU voted twice to reject city proposals. In the second vote, they defied their own leadership who recommended acceptance. The Local was severely criticized by the internal auditor last October for excessive overtime payments. At some point, after some 22 meetings to settle the issues and create a new contract, the ATU has left the city with no choice but to lock them out. When the members fail to support their leadership it is a recipe for disaster. They have also lost the battle for public sympathy and will never recover the lost wages regardless of the outcome if the lockout continues for more than a week.

  4. V

    Gerry I’m not sure if you understand the legalities involved. And if you examined the reason for the so called excessive overtime you might discover understaffing issues by the employer that were since addressed. No one works overtime unless it is necessary and they are asked to. There are many more issues than have been reported in the press. Have you had a chance to actually speak to the union leadership lately?

    • V. The last thing we need is some justification for running up an overtime bill of some $1 million in 2013 for a staff of 205. The union has done a terrible job explaining their side of the story. If there are unpublished facts that support the union’s actions, why not tell the public, those who pay the bills? It appears to me that there is a widening gap between the union leadership and the rank and file. Until this is resolved it is hopeless to continue the bargaining process. Is it true that 29 per cent of the ATU membership don’t live in Guelph? In the final analysis, while it is not mandatory for city employees to live where they work, it does remove any consideration of the those citizens who pay their salaries.

  5. geo

    Anyone notice, now that the drivers really are locked out Her Royal Highness is no where to be found.
    Once again other municipalities will look to the Royal City to see how not to do things!

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