Everything you need to know about the Montreal transit strike

UPDATED: Friday at 6:50pm – It’s over. STM and union negotiators have come to an agreement in principle. Service is resuming slowly. See the latest developments.

Just in case you were curious, no, there wasn’t a last-minute agreement between the STM (Société de Transport de Montréal) and its maintenance workers (the Syndicat du transport de Montréal). So the strike is on, and everyone’s going to need to spend more time planning how to get around town.

I’ll dispense with telling you the blindingly obvious (bike, walk, carpool, taxi) and get down to some things people have been confused about with the coming strike.

The basics

  • The people on strike are maintenance workers, not bus drivers and metro ticket-takers. They belong to a different union, so don’t blame them for the disruption.
  • Service is still being provided during rush hours and late at night, on a schedule established by the essential services council.
  • Nobody knows how long the strike will last (basically it’s until one side cracks from the pressure), but the last strike was 8 days long if you need a ballpark figure. The union insists it could be over “in minutes” while the STM and city warn it could be a long strike.
  • The government has the power to impose a settlement through legislation, but is reluctant to do so. Nevertheless, the labour minister has given both sides a 48-hour deadline as of Wednesday to settle the conflict.

The timing

Buses and metros will work on the following schedule:

  • Weekdays: 6:00-9:00, 15:30-18:30, 23:00-01:00
  • Weekends: 6:00-9:00, 14:00-17:00, 23:00-01:00

At the start of these periods, buses will start up mid-route wherever they would normally be at that time. And any bus that starts will finish, even if it reaches its terminus after the service period is over. (Note: This works out for most routes, however some longer ones like the 211 may lose a departure or two at the end due to logistical problems — the last departure of the morning 211 Westbound is at 8:39am)

Metro trains will also start mid-route at various points in the network. Stations open 15 minutes before the first train, and schedules are posted at metro entrances.

The metro end-times are somewhat complex:

  • Green (1) and Orange (2) lines: Last trains start at the two terminuses at the end of the morning service period (9:00am), passing through Berri-UQAM at 9:25. For the afternoon and evening periods, the last trains will depart the terminuses 20 minutes before the end of the service period (6:10/4:40pm, 12:40am), all passing through Berri-UQAM at the last minute of the period.
  • Yellow (4) starts from both terminuses at the end of the service period
  • Blue (5) starts from both terminuses at the end of the morning and afternoon service periods. The last trains of each day leave at 12:15am as they normally do.

The STM has replaced its normal bus and metro scheduling pages with a hacked-together system that notes which bus stops are cancelled and when metros will run through a particular station. In case you’re unclear about a particular departure, check the STM’s website and it will give you a definitive answer.

All this being said, this strike is still nothing short of chaos for STM management. So expect the network in general to be less reliable than normal and give yourself a margin for error.

Services unaffected

  • AMT commuter trains are not run by the STM, so they will be running on a normal schedule.
    • Those of you who have not taken commuter trains before should know that regular bus pases are not accepted on board. Individual tickets are $3.75 to $5.25 on the island, one-way. Check the link to confirm rates and zones.
    • In a hilarious twist of irony, an unrelated CP Rail labour conflict may cause delays on the Blainville, Dorion and Delson train lines. The Deux-Montagnes line is unaffected (it’s run by CN).
    • Just in case you thought it couldn’t get worse, the AMT is coincidentally experiencing technical problems with its diesel-powered trains the likes of which it hasn’t seen in decades.
  • Transit service in Laval (STL) and the south shore (RTL) as well as other off-island-run services are unaffected. In fact, the STL will be increasing service on lines that come onto the island to compensate for the STM strike, including running their night-time shuttle between Montmorency and Henri-Bourassa during the daytime when metro service is not running in Laval.
  • Paratransit service is considered essential and will run on a normal schedule.

Cancelled services

  • Night buses will not be running (they all fall out of the service periods)
  • School extras (special buses added to handle increased loads from people leaving classes) will be suspended. So if you take the bus with lots of other people from high school, consider other transportation options or a long wait.

The demands

The STM is demanding/offering a five-year contract with:

  • Pension eligibility be reduced by five years (meaning you’ll have to work five years longer, or be five years older, before you qualify for the same benefits)
  • Reduced pension benefits for those retiring after 2019
  • No salary increase this year
  • A 2% salary increase for each of the next four years

The union wants a three-year contract with:

  • No changes to pensions (they’ve since offered to take the cost for this out of the salary increase)
  • A 2% salary increase for each of the next three years plus cost-of-living protection which would add on another 1-3% per year

The history

2,142 maintenance workers, who comprise people like mechanics and janitorial staff but not bus drivers, metro booth operators or supervisors, last went on strike in November of 2003. That strike lasted 8 days. Their latest contract ended Jan. 6, 2007, and they voted to strike on March 4. On May 6 they set the date for the strike.

There have been 15 transit strikes in the past 40 years. The longest was in 1974 when maintenance workers shut down the metro (but not buses) for 44 days.

The politics

Both sides are trying to win this battle in the court of public opinion. The STM took out a full-page ad in Wednesday’s papers.

The union says:

  • They are paid less than private-sector counterparts
  • They have been open to negotiating at any time (while the STM team goes home at 5 p.m.)
  • They are paid less and get less benefits than Laval transit maintenance workers
  • They have already made concessions and are willing to end the strike even with only partial concessions from the STM
  • The strike is our fault
  • Other arguments summarized on this blog post

The STM says:

  • The deal they offered is the same one being given to other city unions
  • They have a $22 million deficit this year and can’t afford more money
  • The union has been without a contract for only a few months and are “taking the city hostage”
  • Their benefits package (especially the pension) make up for any salary difference with private-sector maintenance workers

So far most people are on the STM’s side, noting that $22-$25 an hour is a lot to pay someone to clean vomit off a metro station floor, and that those suffering from this strike are mostly the poor and working class.

The media have come largely on the STM’s side as well, with The Gazette, La Presse (again) and Le Devoir all printing editorials saying the union already has the rights it needs and the strike is overkill. Of course, the crazy union lefties don’t like that idea.

The law

This is a perfectly legal strike. The government has the power, through special legislation, to force and end to the disruption or force a settlement. However, a mutually-agreeable settlement is far preferable to this drastic action. Though some people suggest that charter rights have somehow been violated, no court has ruled that convenient public transit is a charter right.

Your employer has no obligation to change any working conditions due to the strike. This includes changing your schedule, compensating you for cab use, providing alternative transportation, or anything else you might think you deserve because you work at odd hours. You’re still responsible for getting to work on time and working whatever hours you’ve agreed to. Unless public transit is part of your job somehow, the strike becomes your problem, not theirs.

You may be eligible for a partial refund of your monthly or weekly transit pass once this is over. After the 2003 strike, the STM offered a $5 discount for the following February 2004 bus pass ($2.50 for reduced-fare passes). Three years later, it settled a class action lawsuit and discounted $2 off the November 2006 transit pass ($1 off the reduced pass). Hold on to this week’s/month’s pass in case it becomes necessary. Note, however, that it could be a while before you see anything, and it won’t be that much.

Alternatives

Among the more interesting alternatives, CJAD is turning this into an opportunity for a publicity stunt, offering a free shuttle from the West Island to downtown during the strike (between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.).

The Journal today has a list of ride-sharing services, where you can offer and look for a partner to carpool with. And there’s always communauto, which is bound to be busier than normal.

As expected, at least one taxi driver (whose blog is apparently the second-most influential in Quebec) is going to profit heavily from very angry people.

How about informal taxis? Hitch-hike with a tip in hand.

Protests

Though it won’t get you to your destination any faster, writing angry letters might help alleviate your stress a bit.

Or if that’s too much for you, just join the “I don’t support the strike” Facebook group. Or the other “I don’t support the strike” Facebook group. Or the other one. Or the other one. Or this one. Or that one. Or the one over there. Or this one right here. Or this group. Or that group. Or this one. Or that one. Or that one. Or, if you support the strike, join the lone Facebook group that’s taking their side.

So far at least one online petition has started up demanding the government legislate an end to the strike.

The first (and only) attempted protest against the strike by concerned citizens is planned for Thursday at 4pm at Emily-Gamelin Park (aka Berri Square, corner Berri and Ste-Catherine). It was an utter failure, with only three people showing up (not including the media).

Finally, just to balance things out, here’s an interesting blog post arguing that the union’s demands are justified in the big picture.

11 thoughts on “Everything you need to know about the Montreal transit strike

  1. stony_curtis

    This is a great, great post–so many resources, people, etc. in one place.
    “Our fault”? I have taken public transit in this city for many, many years, and though the City’s lip-service says, “We encourage public transport,” their actions say another thing entirely.
    –The ‘new’ NOVA buses were test-driven, found to get stuck in snow, and lurch around terribly when braking? They were bought.
    –The last transit strike, when I was trying to get to the furthest reaches of Ville St.-Laurent for 0830h from the heart of the Plateau? I missed that connecting bus at 0843 *every morning*, thanks to the the scumbag driver who couldn’t wait to get the Hell out of there.
    –There’s a litany of these abuses. But the way it stands now is heartstopping hypocrisy. Encourage public transit? I am a hard-core Green kind of guy, and I have considered a car purchase just to not have to deal with the inwards-looking hatefulness and insularity of the big bullshit machine called the STM.

    Reply
  2. can't_take_it _anymore

    This is abuse on the side of the union. They make more than the average minium wage person with benefits and that’s still not enough? WTF? The same under paid workers without job securty (health insurance, pension and wage rise)who now have to scramble to go to work by paying for taxis out of their own pocket? We have under paid nurses and teachers. Where’s the justice?

    And how can we have a greener environment if this strike only causes more cars on the road, more traffic, more pollution!

    This sucks for the whole city!!!

    Reply
  3. Vineet

    We are planning to visit Montreal this weekend with two young children. We are driving up from Connecticut. Should we cancel?

    Reply
  4. Pandaboy

    $20-$25/hr
    I’m an engineer and I don’t get paid that much. The fact that I did my 5 years of study and knowing that a guy who clean the guy who clean floor is getting paid more than I do is pissing me off. Be more reasonable. Montreal Metro isn’t that dirty anyway.

    Have anyone seen those people work in the morning? Damn, they look so lazy. I worked 60hr/week and still not complaining. These guys… man, no wonder why STM is losing $22 million this year.

    Reply
  5. AngelPhoenix

    Yves Devin
    Directeur général
    STM
    800 rue de la Gauchetière, bureau 9840, CP 2000-Montréal (Qc) H5A 1J6
    Téléphone : (514)280-5150
    Télécopieur : (514) 280-5193
    Courriel : yves.devin@stm.info

    I suggest that the STM and union management get a 2% pay reduction for each day of the strike.

    Reply
  6. Opinioness

    This is pathetic. They have increased the ticket fare to $2.75, which is the same price as what they charge in Toronto. Everyone knows that the standard of living in Toronto is much higher. Salaries are higher, the minimum wage is higher and the rent for the same apt you would be paying $500 for in Montreal would be $1000. They have much better service in Toronto and they actually smile at you and are polite. They have more suburban coverage and street cars, which are electric huge buses that are environmental friendly. I have experienced many incidents where metro ticket sellers in Montreal yelled at me and I even saw the metro driver stick his tongue out at people.

    Those STM workers are violating our rights in the Quebec Human Rights Charter.

    “Every human being has a right to life, and to personal security, inviolability and freedom”

    People who are sick and can’t afford to take a taxi to see a doctor have to basically wait for hours or miss their scheduled appointments. Their right to personal security and freedom is being violated. And I cannot believe that the government is HESITATING to do something about it. Our fault? How would those STM workers feel if WE ALSO went on strike and stopped serving them.

    Reply
  7. Fagstein Post author

    I don’t believe any of those human rights include convenient transportation.

    Like it or not, the strike is entirely legal, as governed by the act respecting essential services.

    Reply
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