December 23, 2005

Threat of a Strike

We decided at the last minute to travel to Montreal. After some Web research (weather and travel) we elected to take the train intead of driving or flying. I have to admit that our logic in this choice was lower cost and convenience. Rail is cheaper than air, and service is downtown to downtown.

In Canada most passenger railroads are Government owned. In our case we travelled on VIA Rail. The trip to Montreal was uneventful but the next day we heard on the news that VIA Rail conductors were threatening to go on strike Chrstmas Eve, stranding passengers from coast to coast in Canada. We've been following the New York City Transit strike and dreading similar scenes and sound bites.

There were differences however. For example the VIA Rail Union had been without a contract for 5 years and had a legal strike mandate. But never the less it is risky for the Union of an essential service to threaten to strike on the busiest travel day of the year. Especially in light of recent events in New York City. What were they thinking?

By the way I'm writing this via my Blackberry on the train back home to Toronto. That's right VIA Mangement reacted to avert a strike.

The inspiration for this article was our being interviewed by a Canadian Press Reporter while in the lineup for the return trip. It dawned on me during the reporter's qustioning about what we thought of the Union that this situation couldn't be that simple.

I have to believe that VIA Conductors and Engineers (the top of the pecking order) feel responbsibility and duty to the public. A public that are in a way are their shareholders. Even I a customer and astute observer of customer service witnessed this while on board. Their attitudes and behavior are way better than some of their airline counterparts.

Two things come to mind:

One might think that the aggressive union stance is incompatible with it's membership's professionalism. Or is this really the state of affairs?

And to counterpoint:

One has to wonder about a management group taking 5 years to secure a contract with workers. That it needed a peak perioid threat to compel action.

In the past I've written of my concerns of the weaknesses of pulic sector leadership (Raise the Leadership Bar). Seems that this is one more case study to add to the list.

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