Short-sighted Negotiating by City of Hamilton Causing Undue Distress

Short-sighted Negotiating by the City of Hamilton Causing Undue Distress

You think I’d be numbed to the short-sightedness of many high-profile negotiators and yet I continue to be surprised by the apparent lack of foresight displayed by people (or organizations) who ought to know better. The current transit strike at the City of Hamilton is no exception. The City of Hamilton, who one would expect (as a bustling mega-municipality) to have some sophistication in the art of negotiation, is demonstrating a stunning lack of common sense at the bargaining table and beyond. 

Negotiations are about relationship. Respect is a key element, as is empathy, trust, and flexibility. One needs to surrender ego and attachment while also avoiding reactivity to the extent possible. City of Hamilton negotiators and management (including City Council) are showing none of these skills. In fact, they’re presenting a case study of what NOT to do in negotiating, thereby ensuring an inability to achieve best results. Sadly, it’s the public who will ultimately pay the price. 

Ironically, the Union (ATU Local 107), who most people assume are unsophisticated players, are showing considerably superior skills and integrity. The Union has consistently taken the high road and worked to build relationship and trust, even in the face of extreme adversity, and even when the City arguably did not deserve it. 

Interestingly, not long ago, ATU 107 members showed the highest loyalty and morale of all City unions surveyed in a poll conducted across the City. That level of support was reflective of the strong leadership of the Union. As a long-time labour lawyer, I can say that ATU 107 has consistently demonstrated the kind of integrity and thoughtful leadership that is the hallmark of great unions. ATU 107 is the oldest transit union in the country and its longevity is no accident. 

It is the Union that has negotiated and fought for expanded transit service for the public in the face of opposition from the Employer. It is the Union that has negotiated and fought for safer transit systems. It is the Union that has fought and negotiated to protect transit against privatization. It is a tribute to ATU that it continues to fight for enhanced transit and a sad commentary that it has to fight the City (who one would hope is charged to provide these services). 

During COVID, ATU operators worked tirelessly on the front line, continuing to ensure uninterrupted transit for the citizens of Hamilton at great personal risk to themselves. It is noteworthy that they did so before vaccinations were even available. They didn’t hesitate to step up, notwithstanding that the Employer failed to even provide appropriate PPE at the time (and while management worked from the safety of their homes, refusing to even come in for meetings, let alone serve the public forward-facing). 

Sadly, the City of Hamilton is undermining all that goodwill. These are the first negotiations since COVID, and the City is showing a total lack of appreciation (or even respect) for the Union and its members. Not only is the City not coming to the table seeking to reward the Union and its members for their unconditional loyalty during one of the most trying times the City (and the world) has seen in our lifetime, but it is trying to take away hard fought rights and engaging in conduct that comes to the edge of legal boundaries (if not beyond). 

As they ought to be aware, this kind of short-sighted negotiating and tactics by the City of Hamilton is almost certain to undermine the loyalty, passion and dedication brought to the table by the Union and its members and to have far-reaching negative impact as a result. The fact that the workers have been forced to resort to a strike (always a last resort as striking never recoup their lost earnings in their own lifetimes) is a testament to the lack of appropriate negotiation finesse by the City. 

Let’s hope that common sense kicks in at some point, and someone on City Council remembers the fundamentals and basics of effective negotiation – rapport, respect, relationship, trust and empathy (which seem to have escaped them to date) – all of which the Union has earned, rather than the ego-driven, competitive approach they’ve brought to the table so far.  


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