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In context: Why bus driver overtime exploded last year

Blame the new Ragged Lake garage and inflexible management.

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Bus driver overtime is at the heart of the current transit strike---the city says it needs to change the way scheduling has been done for over a hundred years in order to address overtime concerns. The union says the schedule changes are a deal breaker.

I want to drill down into the overtime issue, but first an aside about how each side of the dispute is getting its message out.

Understand that the city has a communications department. Last year the city had 39 PR professionals, both in the communications department, and working for fire, police and transit; I expect that number has increased since. The communications department manager is Shaune MacKinlay, a former newspaper reporter.

Due to the nature of our respective jobs, MacKinlay and I are often at loggerheads, but I quite like her, actually. She's doing her job, and me pointing out the disparity in access to PR people between the union and the city isn't necessarily a criticism of the city's PR people---it's just a fact.

Besides having access to full-time, well-paid, professional PR people, the city also has an essentially unlimited advertising budget, and has been taking out full-page ads in newspapers not called "The Coast" to put out their side of the story.

(Pointedly, despite having a PR operation bigger than all news rooms in this city, the communications department has been unable to provide me simple budget information about a bus operation I'm told has gone absurdly awry in financial terms. Instead, Metro Transit spokesperson Lori Patterson has said I'll need to file a formal Freedom of Information request; by now, readers understand the drill: wait 30 days, be told they've applied the automatic 30 day extension, after which they'll claim "third party" objections... and who knows when we'll get this basic budget information, numbers that sensibly should've been live on the city's website for years.)

On the union side, the PR consists of, well, a bunch of bus drivers. Good, hard-working people, and they know the bus business better than any of the flacks pulling in the big bucks at city hall, but they're not trained or practiced to speak or write publicly, they don't have graphic artists, sound engineers and video crews at their beck and call, and they don't have an unlimited taxpayer-backed chequebook.

To be fair, the union does get advice and assistance from the national union reps, and from other unions locally, but the PR deck is clearly stacked against them. Keep that in mind when you hear the dueling talking points.

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