The dispute between Metrobus drivers and management has been going on for a long time. Based on public reports that the union representing the drivers is refusing to accept a cost increase in health benefits for new employees, it’s difficult to see how this situation might be resolved.
Metrobus is important to our city. It not only sustains our local economy by connecting people with their livelihood, it has the potential to reduce the number of cars on the street and increase the number of parking spaces near shops and special events downtown.
Our transit system has been struggling in recent years, and there is mounting pressure from those who use it and those who would like to use it. For years, Metrobus management have engaged in numerous reviews and enacted many of the suggestions received from experts and riders alike.
But like all services and functions, our transit system requires people to enact and sustain them. That includes drivers who are satisfied to come to work each day, management and other employees that run daily operations smoothly and consistently, and of course riders who rely on the service to get to their destinations.
Official “talks” or negotiations have been scarce in this dispute. Drivers have set up a strike line and have attended Council meetings, management have posted newspaper and radio ads explaining their position, and riders have held demonstrations.
When the parties do come together, it’s difficult to “back down” from their position, and it’s possible that priorities become skewed or misinterpreted. That’s why there are some key points that all involved might want to consider going in to these latest round of negotiations:
1. Define Your Shared Priorities
Certainly providing equitable working conditions is important, but are there other shared priorities that can be included in your agreement? For example, expanding service with the objective of getting cars off the road is a common request from riders and non-riders alike.
2. Increase Transparency and Public Dialogue
Secrecy in negotiations is often seen as important to protecting interests, but in a dispute this long and important to the public, sharing information and strategies with the media can go a long way.
Many people in the city feel that negotiations are completely stalled at times, and assume that neither side wants to find a solution. Many involved in the situation insist that is not that case, but it’s difficult for riders to believe that when little is revealed to them.
Transparency is a democratic tool to find solutions and build public support. Public engagement can help riders to feel less disenfranchised and give them a feeling of contributing to a solution.
3. Keep Talking
The more you engage with each other, the more likely you are to understand each others’ requirements and come up with a suitable compromise. Silence just allows frustration to fester.
We will not lose our transit system – it is a vital service that the City will likely continue to support at whatever the cost. But we may reach a crisis point if we’re not careful.
We owe it to ourselves to look to our common goals of improving our services and make those the basis of our negotiations and agreements.