Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Province Won't Interfere with Collective Bargaining, Eh?

In 2008 Kingston had a 60-day Access Bus strike and 3,700 passengers were stranded in their home because Kingston has no other form of adequately reliable accessible transit. During the strike I collected over 1,000 signatures asking that the government declare Specialized Transit services essential.

It took a long time, but the petition was finally tabled in the Legislature and then a reply was received from Minister Kathleen Wynne, minister of transportation.

In her letter she said that she notes the strike is over now (I hope so - it was 2 years ago), that she would not interferre with the collective bargaining process, and that the province gives Kingston $17 million dollars a year for transit.

On reading her response I couldn't help but wonder how much she really knew about the situation in Kingston so I wrote this letter to further educate her.

Dear Minster Wynne,

I am writing in response to your letter that was forwarded to me by John Gerretsen’s office on Feb. 23, 2011. It was your written response to a petition I had submitted to his office in regards to the problems caused by a 60-day Access Bus strike in Kingston. The petition, bearing over 1,000 signatures, was asking that the service be declared an essential service.

In your response you stated,
“I understand that work stoppages, like the 9-week strike by bus drivers at Kingston Access Services, can be especially difficult for people with disabilities. However, the Province respects the collective bargaining process as a mechanism to resolve labour disputes.”
This letter was received within days of the City of Toronto request that the province support declaring the TTC an essential service. This request has since been supported by the province so that, never again, will those who have to rely on public transportation in Toronto, be stranded.

Why, may I ask you, would you support the TTC becoming an essential service, and not the services of Kingston Access Bus?

Were you aware that Kingston Access Bus is a non-profit charitable organization for which the City of Kingston holds no contract?

If you read a letter from Hal Linscott, legal council for the City of Kingston, you will see he states the following:
INFORMATION REPORT TO COUNCIL January 24, 2011 Report No.: 11.068
Page 2

Kingston Access Services
Kingston Bus for the Handicapped, carrying on business as Kingston Access Services ("KAS") is a charitable not for profit corporation incorporated by a number of individuals in 1967 under Letters Patent from the Province of Ontario. KAS is not a local board, agency or authority of the City. KAS by-laws provide that up to two members of City Council may sit on its Board of Directors.

The KAS mission statement is "to provide, in a safe and courteous manner, a reliable, efficient, transit service for persons having impaired mobility". KAS oversees the operation of the Kingston Access Bus, the Kingston Area Patients Shuttle and a
"dial a bus" service in rural areas of the City for Kingston Transit.

The City provides funding to assist KAS in paying for its operations, which are not fully funded from passenger revenue and other sources of revenue. Although there is no legal requirement for the City to provide funding for KAS, the City has the authority to do so should Council determine that is appropriate.

KAS by-laws provide that the Board cannot voluntarily dissolve the organization without the ratification by City Council of the Board's motion to dissolve. Upon dissolution, any assets net of debts and liabilities are required to be distributed to charitable organizations.
(Source: http://www.cityofkingston.ca/pdf/council/agenda/2011/COW_A0111-11068.pdf)

Kingston also has no accessible taxis that people with disabilities can use as a form of alternative transportation and Kingston Transit is still very limited on the level of service they can provide.

While some of the routes have now been declared “Easier Access” routes, this only means that there is a low-floor bus serving that route. Many bus stops do not have a curb or pavement for the ramp to extend out onto so this makes the slope dangerously steep. Due to health and safety concerns for both driver and passenger, many stops have now been restricted and wheelchair passengers have been informed that it is the drivers discretion as to whether they will pick us up or not.

For this reason we have now had to go back to using the Access Bus full-time, and if we are on an income that places us below the low-income cut-off amount, we are not able to avail ourselves of the city’s new Municipal Transportation Subsidy that was started about a year ago to help low income passengers afford the cost of their bus. To illustrate why this is a problem, last year I paid $1,710.00 for transit because I must use specialized transit, whereas a person who qualified for the subsidy and could take conventional transit and pay a maximum of $528.00 for unlimited rides in a year. To learn about the subsidy, see: (http://www.cityofkingston.ca/residents/transportation/transit/fee-assistance/index.asp)

The rationale used for the exclusion is that the Access Bus is a non-profit charitable organization over which the city has no contract, and therefore no ability to control how they set their rates.

I am giving you these extra details to illustrate how little support people with disabilities can get from the city.

During the Access Bus strike I was working full-time and I never missed a day of work. Instead I cut my sleep down to 4 hours at night and used my natural streak of high energy and determination to push myself to carry on.

I got up each day at 4:30 am so I could be on the road and driving to work by power wheelchair at 6:00 am. It took me 1 hour to travel 11 kms. to the Cataraqui Town Centre where I caught a Kingston Transit bus to take the final 10 minute trip up a street with no sidewalks and a speed limit 60 kph, so I could get there safely.

There was a low-floor bus that I could take from near my home but because of an extreme reaction to scent (it triggers an asthma attack), I could never get on the bus early in the morning because the freshly applied scents were too strong. It was this health risk that made it impossible to take conventional transit because when I can’t breathe, I get disoriented, panic, and have to get off of the bus.

At work I charged my power wheelchair the full 8 hours so I could have enough juice to run errands, often late into the evening, and go home. I also took time to buy groceries for other wheelchair users who had no other choice to get out of their homes when the drivers for Access Bus were on strike. Kingston does not have a grocery order and delivery service similar to the Grocery Gateway in Toronto.

When the strike ended 6 buses had to be taken off the road because the school board pulled their contract and with it, the 13% of the annual funding they gave the service to take young school children to school. Losing the funding was a huge blow to the service because the city did not replace the funds.

With the loss of the buses, I was informed by the service that my subscription service to work was permanently gone.

You see, in order for the Access Bus to accommodate me and take me to work for a shift that started at 8 am, the Executive Director had made a deal with a driver to start work ½ hour early and end ½ hour early. The normal hours of operation are 7:30 am – 10:30 pm Monday – Friday and 9:00 am – 10:30 pm on Saturday and Sunday.

When I got ill I applied for EI Sick benefits and thought reason would prevail so I could return to work. Little did I know that no solution could be found and I would be forced to wait out the 4 months necessary for EI to run out before I could return to ODSP under the rapid reinstatement program. To get back on ODSP for even just the coverage for extended health care, they take income and subtract the cost of shelter and, if you qualify, the special diet allowance. They don’t take into consideration the cost for catheter supplies, wheelchair repairs, or the replacement of my 8 year old CPAP machine for sleep apnea because it died just after I was forced to quit the job.

In the collective bargaining process, a stop was put to making this sort of accommodation so, after 4 months of trying to compensate for the lost transportation and subsequent lack of sleep, I burned out, became emotionally unwell, and as forced to quit my job.

I am a woman who, at the age of 47, got my first full-time job and was fully able to leave ODSP. I was successfully able to hold onto that job for 18 months until the stress caused by literally having no access to public transportation got the better of me, and I had to quit. To get and keep a job for that long when most of my life, a disability had prevented me from getting and keeping even a part-time job, was a huge milestone for me so when I had to quit for health reasons related to my disability, it was a huge disappointment.

I don’t know if the full cost of the damage caused to me by the strike can be calculated but suffice it to say I had to wait 4 months to get back on ODSP and endure the insulting punishment of having not enough income to buy disability related medical supplies, fix my wheelchair, or replace my CPAP machine; some thanks for trying to work and break free of social assistance. The shock that came as a result of this situation eventually sunk me into a situational depression that was bad enough that I had to be hospitalized for 9 days. For curiousity sake I looked up the cost of the stay in hospital on the internet and, using the costs quoted for 2006 (because it was all I could find), I figure the total cost to the health care system for that 9-day stay was $7,218.00; all this because of an Access Bus Strike and a community that has not taken steps to ensure there is an alternative form of tranportation for wheelchair users and those with mobility impairments.

It’s too bad that you feel that collective bargaining rights can take away the rights of a person with a disability to get and keep a job.

I therefore ask that after reading this, you:
  1. Ask how the city apportions the $17 million between Kingston Access Bus and Kingston Transit. This is the amount you said in your letter that the province was providing to Kingston to assist with the cost of providing public transportation to its citizens. Is the amount being fairly distributed between the 2 services? My guess is, it is not.

  2. Investigate, or ask the City of Kingston, why they hold no contract with the services of Kingston Access Bus so that, in the case of a work stoppage, the city can ensure that passengers who use specialized transit can still continue to work, attend medical appointments, buy groceries, or at least do the bare minimum of tasks that are essential for daily living so one can maintain their level of health. Wheelchair users should not be getting stress related illnesses because the employer, city, and medical profession chose not to provide the proper disability accommodations to one who uses a wheelchair and can’t stand up.

    There must be some way to legally require the City of Kingston to provide one form of wheelchair accessible transportation in the event of strike action or work stoppage so that, never again, will we have to give up our rights, source of income, and health.

  3. Investigate why Kingston took the Accessible taxis off the road and, to date, has never replaced them.

  4. Investigate why Kingston has been allowed to change the rules so that, according to a letter from the transit manager and instructions that were printed on the latest bus map, wheelchair users can no longer count on being able to use all the bus stops on an Easier Access route.
All these actions are discriminatory, violate the Ontario Human Rights Code, and run counter to the Accessibility for Ontarian’s With Disabilities Act that the government will soon be making enforceable across the province.

Please help to find a solution, if declaring the service essential is not something you're willing to do.

Please read my other Blogs:
Accessibility: http://wheelchairdemon.blogspot.com
Health Care: http://wheelchairdemon-health.blogspot.com

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