Locked-out Codiac Transpo drivers head west for work

A Codiac Transpo bus driver says he's among several colleagues heading west to find work as the contract dispute with the City of Moncton continues.

David Chandler says his bills are piling up during contract dispute

Codiac Transpo bus drivers, who have been locked out since June 27, say they need to find work. (Karen Rawlines/CBC)

A Codiac Transpo bus driver says he's among several colleagues heading west to find work as the contract dispute with the City of Moncton continues.

David Chandler, who has been a bus driver for 27 years, says he'd rather be driving his usual Codiac route in Dieppe.

But the city locked out about 80 bus drivers, mechanics and service people on June 27, with wages being a key stumbling block.

Chandler says he feels badly for the passengers who are caught in the middle.

"I'm sorry, I really am," he said.

"I know the people that I haul. Like, I basically work in Dieppe, and they're not customers, they're family. And most of them I've known for the last 26, 27 years. I've seen their kids grow up."

'Pure hell'

Chandler said he's frustrated and confused about why the lockout has lasted so long.

He said he voted in favour of accepting the city's deal in April and hasn't been going to union meetings lately.

 He doesn't know who to blame, he said, he just wants to get back to work.

"I love driving a bus. If I didn't love it, I wouldn't do it. It's something I've gotten really into. And it's my whole life."

The past few months have been "pure hell," said Chandler. He can't cover his wife's medications, is going without life insurance and expenses are adding up.

"It's one of those things that you just don't know what to do," he said.

Chandler already spent a month in Albany, N.Y., driving a bus to help pay the bills.

"I still have mortgage payments. And if it wasn't for going to work in the States for the 30 days that I was gone, like, I would've lost my house by now. I know because I was three, four months behind there."

He plans to head to the Alberta oil sands soon, where he says he'll make $35 an hour.

While Chandler says he supports his union, he also thinks the dispute has dragged on long enough.

"I'd like to see an agreement real quick, save me from going out west to work. I think in both sides there needs to be a little bit more give," he said.

Moncton and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1290, which is representing the Codiac workers, have agreed to annual pay hikes that would bring the bus drivers' salaries to $51,000 a year by 2017, up from $44,000.

But the union is holding out in hopes of being paid $60,000 per year by 2018, which city manager Jacques Dubé has described as a "wage bomb."

The workers have been without a contract since 2010.

Codiac Transpo services Moncton, Riverview and Dieppe.