Monday, February 08, 2010

Unionized Public Monopolies and Customer Service - Ha Ha Ha

Unionized public monopolies create a large problem, in that their threat to strike is a threat to shut down all available sources of the service they provide, because the state has forbidden alternatives.  The whole situation surrounding them is ill-considered, and leads to a series of consequences.
One thing the institution does NOT lead to is good customer service.
In the last couple of weeks, customers of the Toronto Transit Commission, Toronto's public transit monopoly (and effectively reasonably-priced transit monopoly, since other bus companies, or subways, are not allowed) have been engaged in a bit of guerrilla warfare against TTC employees, capturing them with ubiquitous digital cameras and videocameras sleeping on the job or taking long unannounced breaks in the middle of their shifts.
Now these workers are unionized so anyone knows that management has little recourse to take action against their behaviors.
Nonetheless the General Manager of the TTC sent a stern note to employees on the weekend.
We all have to accept responsibility for allowing the TTC to drift into a culture of unacceptable operating discipline. In other words, we have deemed it acceptable for some employees to not do all aspects of their jobs.
As employees, you – and you alone – are accountable for your actions. The culture of complacency and malaise that has seeped into our organization will end. I hold all of management responsible to make this happen. Reviews and plans are under way to address systemic issues regarding customer service, but real change starts with you.
 However impressive the words sound, anyone with half a brain knows that surely this is all puff when balanced against the collective agreement under which the TTC managers and employees work.   The employees know they are only accountable to meet the minimal demands actually in the collective agreement, and management is surely in no position to expect truly professional behavior from unionized employees (I have never seen that in a unionized environment).

So what follows?  Just the expected intransigence  from the union leader and chaos from the employees, some claiming to be working-to-rule, and others making threats of striking, much of the battle going on on Facebook.
I am sure this will end up a tempest in a teapot (but remember the reference to 'tea') shortly, but it will not be easily forgotten by TTC riders who depend on service.  Being told by the union leader we have no right to defend ourselves in obvious ways against slovenly employee behavior (it is actually worse than slovenly) may last as a memory to the fall mayorlaty and council election.  The employee attitude will likely not leave our minds either.
Even more delicious, the apparent most-like-Miller successor is Adam Giambrone, the current chair of the TTC, decidedly in the race, who is going to have to walk the tightrope between his need for union support, and votes from the rest of us, somewhat burned by the garbage strike last summer, and now by this clear statement by the unions of their attitudes toward customer service.
The irony is that the letter from the general manager included this statement:
We are in the customer service business, but some of the behaviour our customers have encountered recently would suggest otherwise. Our customers pay a fare and the City provides hundreds of millions of dollars every year to the TTC. This public transit agency belongs to the very people we serve.

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1 Comments:

At 4:45 PM, Blogger Kenneth said...

This was a good post - though I wonder how we can end the stranglehold that the TTC union has on the city, outside of ending the transit monopoly and allowing private operators to compete and at the same time getting rid of unionized labor in the TTC.

 

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