Opinion

Open Letter: LRT Privatization is Privatization

When you take what is currently a wholly owned and delivered not-for-profit public service and turn it into a profit-driven service delivered by private corporations, there's a name for that.

By Eric Tuck
Published August 09, 2017

A number of articles have been published about our campaign by Andrew Dreschel, Ryan McGreal and others, most of them missing the most important point we make: namely, that contracting out operations and maintenance of the LRT is in fact privatization by definition. Period.

They are suggesting that the LRT will in fact be a 'public' project because Metrolinx - a provincially owned, but arm's length agency - will own the trains and other related equipment. This is a view Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger shares.

What they seem to ignore is that the people who run and maintain those trains will be hired and managed not by the City or Metrolinx - the public stakeholders - but by a company they choose to manage it for them: a private, for-profit company responsible to deliver profit to its shareholders.

In fact, every aspect of this project will be privatized from the financing to the design to the building to the operations and the maintenance. The only thing that will be owned by the 'public' will be the trains, and they will be owned not by the city but by Metrolinx.

When was the last time you voted for someone to sit on the board of Metrolinx? Right, never.

Can we just agree to call it what it is? When you take what is currently a wholly owned and delivered not-for-profit public service and turn it into a profit-driven service delivered by private corporations, there's a name for that. It's called privatization, and Hamiltonians have had enough of it.

There are hundreds of good, well-paid jobs, currently done by HSR staff. The vast majority of our members are Hamiltonians. By contracting out operations and maintenance - by privatizing those jobs - you are guaranteeing that many of those jobs will be done outside of our city.

By privatizing operations and maintenance, you are guaranteeing that those new workers will be paid much less, with fewer benefits.

And here's something the Mayor and others need to understand: even if we unionize them - and we will one way or another - those workers will not be getting the same deal that HSR employees currently do unless they extend our contract to cover all new employees.

Otherwise, they will have to undergo a new contract, from scratch, throwing away the over 100 years of negotiations that have created our current collective agreement.

We'll have two transit companies, two collective agreements, and two groups of workers with different contracts, doing the same work.

So when you advocate for privatized operations and maintenance you are advocating to kill good, well-paid jobs, done by dedicated Hamiltonians. And you're advocating to pay the new workers less and the shareholders of a private corporation more.

Do those sound like the right priorities to you? They don't to me.

Is it enough to just have a shiny new LRT train run by underpaid workers, managed by companies who absolutely must make money for their shareholders? Or can we demand better?

We think we can demand better.

The TTC in Toronto demanded better and they will be running the new Metrolinx Englinton Crosstown LRT.

And in Hamilton, the HSR should be operating and maintaining our LRT.

Eric Tuck is the president of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 107, the union that represents HSR employees.

8 Comments

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Read Comments

[ - ]

By JPDanko (registered) - website | Posted August 09, 2017 at 10:02:58

"By privatizing operations and maintenance, you are guaranteeing that those new workers will be paid much less, with fewer benefits."

"So when you advocate for privatized operations and maintenance you are advocating to kill good, well-paid jobs, done by dedicated Hamiltonians. And you're advocating to pay the new workers less and the shareholders of a private corporation more."

These two statements are simply not true in a modern context. I always wonder why unions insist on perpetuating such a simplistic us-versus-them mentality because it really undermines their overall credibility on more important issues.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Tybalt (registered) | Posted August 09, 2017 at 11:41:58 in reply to Comment 121848

If you can cite any counterexamples it would help rather than just asserting it isn't true.

A useful study to understand the pervasive labour effects of private operation and contracting is section 4 of In The Public Interest's 2016 privatization paper with lots of juicy research goodness through the footnotes: https://www.inthepublicinterest.org/wp-c...

Regarding your critique of the "us vs them" mentality of organized labour in seeking to protect their workers, that's what labour organizing is for: to promote the material interests of the workers. "Us vs. them" is entirely appropriate as a framework for the political activity of a union.

There is no "issue" that can be more important to a worker than the security and compensation of their job; in most cases it is what allows them to stay alive. There is no place for sanctimony about higher things in the face of this fundamental material question.

-Craig Burley

Comment edited by Tybalt on 2017-08-09 11:43:30

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Tybalt (registered) | Posted August 09, 2017 at 11:47:15 in reply to Comment 121849

(All that being said, there ARE studies that assert that the effects of privatization on worker wages are variable and not uniform, and some assert that the measurable effect is small or insignificant. I'm not asserting that the question is all the union's way here.)

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By JPDanko (registered) - website | Posted August 09, 2017 at 13:04:41

Costco, Dofasco are two examples that come to mind of workers doing just fine without a union. And there are equally important issues besides wage and job security - such as job satisfaction and promotion based on merit.

Anyway, I'm not going to get into a union pro / anti union argument. There are many salaried professionals that get screwed over by their company just as much as anyone and I know first hand the value of a strong union in the construction industry - the point is privatization isn't a bad word and unions don't do themselves any favours when they play that card.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By iancborsuk (registered) - website | Posted August 09, 2017 at 15:00:57 in reply to Comment 121851

It's a bad word for many, you can disagree on that but let's not pretend your ideological position is the default position.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By JasonL (registered) | Posted August 10, 2017 at 09:26:59

There's a lesson here kids. Don't allow ideology to run your life. It's amazing that some folks are actually suggesting the HSR can manage transit with excellence.
Kudos to everyone espousing this non-truth with a straight face. That's an Oscar-worthy performance.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Haveacow (registered) | Posted August 10, 2017 at 15:35:08

The majority of private firms which operate transit worldwide and will be part of the consortiums bidding for the rights to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the B-Line are already like, the operator I mentioned before here on this site, Keolis, heavily unionized already! Most of the large international operators whom generally bid on these contracts not only already heavily unionized but have had to deal with unions in the international transit arena for decades. They are open to unions, don't mind unionization of non-union transit operations. Canada and North America in general are relative new comers to this type of transit operation, where companies run transit services for a government body. This is extremely common in the rest of the world for the last 2-3 decades, just not here in North America! It's not a anti-union take over of transit!

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By InfraGuy (registered) | Posted August 14, 2017 at 09:55:56

The proposed Design, Build, Finance, Operate and Maintain (DBFOM) contract for the Hamilton LRT is not privatisation. It is the public sector (Metrolinx) contracting a private partner to provide these services over an ~30 year period. The contract will have strict performance controls and termination clauses and at the end of the term the infrastructure and rolling stock would be handed over to Metrolinx in "like new" condition. The workers at each phase are all typically unionised though will not be part of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 107, the union that represents HSR employees. Though not stated explicitly, this is the ATU and Mr. Tuck's primary concern.

Permalink | Context

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to comment.

Events Calendar

Recent Articles

Article Archives

Blog Archives

Site Tools

Feeds