The City of Moncton and the union representing Codiac Transpo workers begin three days of mediation Thursday in an effort to avert a strike.
If the talks fail, about 90 people — including bus drivers, mechanics and service workers — could walk off the job as early as Monday, leaving Moncton, Riverview and Dieppe without public transportation.
Wages and overtime, and being paid for pre-trip preparation work and travel time are among the issues the workers want addressed, said George Turple, president and business agent for the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1290.
"I'm very hopeful," he told CBC News Thursday morning.
"This is a serious situation and I'm hoping that the mayor and council in these communities, this community, the City of Moncton, realize how serious the situation is.
"This is a transit system that is going to affect a lot of people in their lives, in their day-to-day living and how they get to work, how they get to their appointments, how they do their shopping. So it's very serious and I hope the city is coming with serious thoughts."
City officials have said they hope an agreement will be reached before a strike occurs.
"We're still at the table. We're still talking," said Paul Thomson, spokesman for the city. "There's hope."
One worker, who refused to talk to CBC News, told Thomson "So you're going to mislead people again ... continuously."
Turple plans to take a deal to his membership on Sunday.
If the contract is denied, the union would give the city 24 hours notice before striking, he said.
The City of Moncton said service could end as early as Saturday.
The workers have been without a contract since 2010.
Negotiations broke down in March.
"We're in a little bit of a disagreement with the union," Thomson said. "First of all, any kind of agreement has to be fully costed, look at the organization and implications on taxpayers, and that takes time."
Petition calls on city to make a deal
A Moncton woman is fighting to keep the buses running.
Karen Haley has started a petition, asking the city to take action to avoid a transit strike.
She has already collected 700 signatures and plans to present the petition to city council on Monday.
Haley works at a special care home and depends on Codiac Transpo to get to her job, her appointments and the grocery store. She supports the bus drivers, she said, and is urging Moncton's mayor and councillors to negotiate a contract.
"I'm challenging city council to actually get on a bus and use it," Haley said.
"They don't know how the service works even, because they don't use it. Park your car for a week and try it. You represent the service, but you don't know how it runs. Put your money where your mouth is and get out there."
Many users are upset by the idea of the strike.
"It's going to cause a lot of grief for everybody," said Haley.
"I won't be able to do down ... and go shopping, or maybe to the doctor's office," transit user Arlene Azzopardi.
"I wouldn't be able to work. As of money — if they're on strike, I'm either on [employment insurance]
or I have to apply for welfare depending on how long it goes," Sylvia Breau said.
Codiac Transpo said it provided 2.5 million passenger trips in 2011.