On the Metroblog

May 21, 2007 § 18 Comments

As some of you know, there’s been quite a bit of grousing over on Metroblogging Montreal about the upcoming transit strike, which is slated to begin on Tuesday.  Being a pragmatist as well as a union supporter, I’ve put together a list of strike survival strategies that you may find useful: to peruse them, click here

Oh, and for anyone who’s thinking about leaving a petulant comment about the inconvenience the strike will cause them, I have not one but two medical appointments to get to on Tuesday and I still think that maintenance workers deserve a living wage, so don’t bother.

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§ 18 Responses to On the Metroblog

  • tornwordo says:

    Okay, we can agree to disagree. I’m totally pro-union until it hits me (seriously) in the pocketbook. Does that make me a hypocrite? Oh well, can’t help it.

  • methesequel says:

    Wow. 20+/hr is not a “living wage”?

    So, folks who eke out only minimum wage must be living like rats in sewers then? And petulantly too.

  • Vila H. says:

    Torn: Well, it could be perceived as a teeny bit of a contradiction, couldn’t it? (Grins.)

    In actual fact, I don’t have a problem with people grousing per se; god knows, I do enough of it myself. What bothers me is when that grousing is coupled with calls to abolish the right to strike and/or unions in general, or, worse, when statements are made to the effect that “janitors” and other workers who are not highly educated intrinsically don’t deserve to earn a decent wage. (For those of you who don’t read MB Montreal regularly, click here for examples.)

    In any case, I’m happy to agree to disagree, since that is what people who respect each other do when they have differences of opinion. I only wish that some of the commenters on MB Montreal would acknowledge that maintenance workers are no less deserving of respect than anyone else.

    Sadia: I didn’t say that $20+/hr isn’t a living wage (although, after deducting $6+/hr in taxes, it is hardly an excessive one). I do understand, however, that unionization is the primary reason that that the STM maintenance workers make that wage.

    As for your question about minimum wage earners, I wonder who you are referring to? My mother earned the minimum wage at nearly every job she worked at until she retired. I earned the minimum wage from the time I started working regularly (at 12 years old) until I was in the second year of my masters degree, and I currently live on the monthly equivalent of minimum wage. My brother lives on substantially less than minimum wage, as does most of my extended family, and many of my friends earn only slightly more.

    In my life, minimum wage earners are not an abstraction: they are real people who have struggled and who continue to struggle with pressures that persist long after the inconvenience of a transit strike has ended, and the majority of them are far more sympathetic to unions than you realize. No, they aren’t rats at all. But I wonder if they are who you think they are.

  • tornwordo says:

    So Global is looking for people to film tomorrow morning after nine, who have to find alternate transport means. They put me on tonight. I can’t find your email, so that’s why I’m posting here. I can give you the reporter’s number. Torn…..@yahoo.youknowwhat.

  • methesequel says:

    Vila, that so many people earn minimum wage – or just slightly higher – is precisely the point I was trying to make.

    20.00/hr+ is a comfortable rate so I simply do not see the justification of hijacking a city (which is in effect what a strike does) for the sake of increasing it.

    I firmly support any worker’s right to a livable wage – just not at the expense of those trying to get around and earn one themselves. ;)

  • Vila H. says:

    Ah, but here’s where we’re missing each other. Follow me, will you?

    My mother, a minimum-wage earner, supports the right to strike. You do not support the right to strike if it affects her adversely. Therefore, you would argue against transit workers’ right to strike on her behalf, despite the fact that she herself unconditionally supports their right to strike. In other words, you would presume to speak for her but would say something quite different than what she would say if she was speaking for herself.

    See the problem? (Smiles.)

    I should add that, after working for his company for 37 years, my father earned roughly $20/hr, or about $14/hr after taxes and employee deductions. He began by making $4/hr, and his union fought for modest annual wage increases that kept his pay in line with the cost of living. By contrast, my mother, whose jobs were not unionized, saw her wages rise from $3/hr to $7/hr during the same 37-year time period. Were it not for my father’s wage, my parents would not have been able to purchase a (second-hand) car, carry a mortgage, and raise two children, and there is a very good chance that I would not have had the benefit of a decent education. Which means that I more than likely wouldn’t be here, passionately debating the STM strike with my fellow bloggers. ;)

    Having said all of this, I think that there is a legitimate discussion to be had about whether or not public transit constitutes an essential service on par with nurses and police. But, I would first want to know what legal option would replace maintenance workers’ right to strike. So far, I haven’t heard any concrete proposals, which suggests to me that most commentators don’t appreciate the importance of the right they would instantly revoke. I’d be very happy to be wrong, though.

  • Beyond the question of living wage is the issue of benefits. Unionized workers, like grad students, live in a world of elves and fairies where all the unpleasant eventualities of life are generally covered for. There’s no suffering involved (beyond the mind-numbing boredom) in sitting in a booth handing out the occasional ticket. And to do it with a surly and superior attitude, now that takes talent. Creative, uncoventional and talented people who go it alone (that’s my family frame of reference), working freelance, or as artists or intellectuals (you mean they don’t pay you for that…) suffer far more than your idealized, largely self-satisfied and now increasingly irreverantly ignorant working class — who ain’t all they’re cracked up to be anymore. The world has changed. I say fire the fucking lot of them and replace the system with robots. Then let all those people figure out what to do with the rest of their monotonous lives.

    But that’s just me. Ranting…

  • Vila H. says:

    I have nothing to say to that.

  • uberfrau says:

    Smart Sebastian…but not brillant.

  • Frank says:

    I guess that I’m a bit more capitalist than I would have liked. $20/hr as a starting salary sounds quite cushy. I didn’t even get that until I was four years out of college with two degrees. Now, I understand that the possibility for advancement is much better for me than for them, but that is still quite a comfortable salary to start off with. Plus the benefits sound on par with what I have. Probably better on the pension front.

    Now I don’t disagree that everyone should earn a comfortable wage as long as they contribute to society to the best of their abilities. And really, why should Joe Rock Star make millions for doing as much work as Joe Janitor. And I’m not saying that because I was fortunate enough to go to college and was born with the abilities that I have, that I should earn more than someone who contributes equally relative their abilities.

    But I don’t see substantial reason for a strike. I understand the union doesn’t have any other real pressure tactics they could use. But why can’t we bring in a non-partial arbitrator. Someone who could analyse the situation and return a fair agreement. Not one that splits things down the middle, but one that returns something that weeds out the unreasonable requests of each side. It really should not come to this.

  • Vila H. says:

    Hmm. At a tax rate of 22.8 per cent, and with employee contributions deducted, someone who earns $20 per hour generally takes home between $14 and $15 per hour, or about $30,000 per year. I personally wouldn’t describe these amounts as cushy, especially now that the average price of a home in Montreal stands at a record $228,825.

    Having said this, it wasn’t wages but pensions that led to the STM strike, which doesn’t surprise me in the least. My father’s union believed that pension and health benefits were worth more to its members than wage increases, and negotiated accordingly. My teeth are very glad of it.

    Anyway, I completely agree that an arbitrator needs to be called in, and that it should not have come to this. As I understand it, a conciliator joined the bargaining sessions in recent weeks, but clearly he did not have the power to impose a binding settlement. This is one area in which laws could possibly be tweaked without unduly restricting the maintenance workers’ collective bargaining rights, though it would be difficult to provide iron-clad assurances of fairness. Something to think about, at least…

  • mtlanglo says:

    I can’t beleive how virulent this anti-union feeling is on the web.

    I think everyone should ask themselves: Who should make more than $55K a year? Is there anyone that doesn’t have a degree or work in IT suitable to make $55k, or maybe even $75k? Make that money with their bare hands?

  • xanthium says:

    I think a lot of the frustration people have has to do with the crappiness of your average, white-collar job. It’s not that blue collar workers don’t deserve a decent wage, because of course they do. It’s that a lot of educated, white-collar workers don’t make one either. Many people, after finishing college or even grad school, realize that they probably would have been better off financially had they gone to a vocational school to train for a blue collar job or gotten a unionized one. The general crappiness of the kind of service jobs you get as an entry-level employee after college is eye-opening for those who thought they would do better than their parents by getting an education. This is one of the reasons that so many people end up going to law school. I’m underemployed for someone with a master’s (which is often the case, unless your degree is in something technical), but my job is fairly typical for an average, entry-level, recent college grad. I make 15$ an hour before tax, no health insurance, no pension plan. Many eventually do better, but it can take a long time and plenty never really feel as comfortably middle class as they think they deserve. The average cost of a (decidedly average) home in California easily doubles or triples that of one in Montreal. To top it off, the average college grad has $20,000 in student loans (presumably less in Canada, but of course, I have more). Moreover, you start earning money a little later (or a lot later, if you go to grad school), so that is less time that you have to build up your retirement or save for a house or whatever it is. I don’t resent others making a decent wage. Personally, it just makes me wish I had a union–but to a lot of people, having something like a union would mean that they were working class, and dammit, they’re middle class.

  • Frank says:

    OK, cushy is a bit of an exaggeration. But it is quite a good starting salary. I started out at $13.50 per hour back when I started in 1996. And I adjusted that for inflation. One thing I have been wondering. Is it the starting salary, the average salary, or the set salary for everyone in that position? The number you state is an average home price meaning that there are many lower in price. When we were in the market, we were looking for ones below that price. Plus homes are cheaper off island.

    For the record, I find it hard to understand why anyone should earn more than 100k a year. How can that job be tougher than hauling around building materials on a construction site or waiting tables?

  • xanthium says:

    Well, it is about how many people there are who are able to do the job, not about toughness. Yes, it is hard work to wait tables, but the average new restaurant employee can be trained in an evening. You can also find a replacement by putting an ad in the paper. Working as a temp receptionist, I can go to just about any business and fill in for the day–and I can be as easily replaced. It’s not that the work isn’t “hard” (believe me, it is mindnumbingly tedious), but it isn’t particularly skilled. In contrast, my boyfriend designs microchips–clearly, not everyone could be trained to do his job. I probably couldn’t have gotten a graduate degree in engineering, even if I had tried. The scarcity of workers means that he can get a higher wage–and because he bothered to learn a desirable and complex skill that many others can’t actually acquire, he should be paid more. If all you get is a pat on the head, why would you bother challenging yourself? Isn’t that why communism failed?

    The renumeration of the highly skilled is a different issue than that of those who are striking for a living wage. Unions and government regulations give power to those who otherwise have very little to bargain with and help ensure that their employer does not take advantage of them. Market forces are not enough protect the individuals from being exploited. If you work, you should earn enough for you and your family to live on decently–a place to live, enough food, health care, etc. That is an issue of social justice that we all seem to agree on. What we’re really arguing about is what “decently” means; how much does it take to have an acceptable standard of living? Should you make enough to buy a house or just enough to rent your apartment? Should you be able to send your kids to college? Can you afford a car to get to work? I don’t have the answers.

  • Jonathan says:

    There’s lots of talk here about living wages, but let’s not forget those pensions. It’s not just about a living wage while you’re working; it’s about being able to retire and get by.

  • Vila H. says:

    Definitely (see my comment above). Health benefits, too, are an important part of the package, and will presumably become even more so as provincial governments allow a greater number of services to be privatized.

    It is interesting, though, that most people haven’t acknowledged pensions as the primary reason the strike happened. Might make the strikers more sympathetic…

    As for the questions you pose, Xanthium, I have a post brewing about some of them, but for now I’ll say this: if your work is essential to a city service, you should be able to afford to live in that city, union or no. To my mind, this is not only a matter of economic justice, but of social diversity. What happens to a city when its less affluent inhabitants are priced out of its housing market? And in case you were wondering, yes, that’s a thesis-related question. :)

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