Transit services in Guelph are expected to return to working order on Friday after a lockout that has lasted more than two weeks ended when council and transit workers voted in favour of a new contract. 

"We're relieved for the community," said Guelph mayor Karen Farbridge. "I know that they'll feel relieved as well, particularly our riders but also our employees, our drivers and our mechanics."

'Still, the membership is a little bitter with regards to being locked out by the City of Guelph.'- Andrew Cleary, ATU Local 1189 president

The city says it will also be offering transit service for free to all users until the end of the service day on August 15 to give riders the opportunity to buy August bus passes and encourage people to use transit once again. 

Farbridge said she is hopeful service will resume on Friday, however there is much logistical work that needs to be done before then. 

"The buses have been sitting idle for three weeks, so there's mandatory, legislative, regulatory compliance around testing, and it takes time to do that testing," said Farbridge. Mechanics and drivers will return to work Wednesday to get the buses up and running.

Andrew Cleary, president and business agent of ATU Local 1189, which represents transit workers, said the vote passed by a margin of 80 per cent.

"Still, the membership is a little bitter with regards to being locked out by the City of Guelph," said Cleary. "But I think we have a relationship going forward that we can build on." 

ATU Local 1189 members have been without a contract for over a year.

In bargaining meetings, the city said it could not reach agreement with the union and forced a provincially monitored vote on a contract in early July. When that contract was overwhelmingly rejected by the union membership, the city announced it would lock out employees starting July 14.

But in the hours before the lockout was to begin, the union executive struck up a tentative agreement with the city. This contract was ratified by city council, but again rejected by the union membership, triggering a lockout that has lasted just over two weeks.

The tentative agreement voted on Tuesday afternoon was struck up over the past week, in meetings between the union and city.

Union says workers will get 6.81 per cent pay hike

Cleary initially said Tuesday that the new deal allows for a wage increase of 8.5 per cent over four years.

However, in a statement Tuesday evening to the media, Guelph mayor Karen Farbridge said the actual increase will be 6.81 per cent over four years. 

But Cleary insisted that workers were less concerned with wages and more concerned about working conditions. He said, throughout this "difficult" negotiation process, the union argued for better washroom accommodations along their routes and a lunchroom at Guelph Transit.

In the previously rejected tentative agreement, Ann Pappert, Guelph's Chief Administrative Officer, said a letter of understanding had been signed to address working conditions, which are usually not part of collective agreement bargaining.

Cleary, who drives a bus route that runs to a hospital and a mall, said he's excited to return to work. He added he's optimistic he and his colleagues will be able to get service running again by Friday. 

"I believe we can reach that goal," said Cleary. "There's a back to work protocol that will go through tomorrow with management and union and hopefully we can get it up as quickly as we can."