City of Ottawa officials have confirmed to CBC News they are asking federal labour officials to appoint a conciliation officer to help broker a deal with bus drivers and mechanics.
The city had been mulling over the idea for more than a week, before pulling the trigger on Tuesday afternoon.
They have asked the federal government for help sorting out the tangled labour situation with the Amalgamated Transit Union.
"The city has filed for conciliation," said Coun. Diane Deans. "We view this very much as a natural progression. In fact, it's a common occurrence in collective bargaining that you would seek the services of a federal conciliator."
'We have our work cut out for us right now.'
—Mike Aldrich, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279
What the move also does is arm the city with the power to lock out the transit workers by July, if the two sides aren't making progress on a new deal.
City officials vow they will not leave themselves open to another winter strike like the one which ground bus service to a halt for 54 days two years ago.
The union calls the move counter-productive, since the two sides have never met for contract talks.
"When Mayor [Jim] Watson took over, his thing during his campaign was to improve transit and to improve the morale at OC Transpo," said Mike Aldrich, vice-president of ATU Local 279. "What we've seen is … run cuts. And as far as the morale, conciliation doesn't do much for morale.
"We have our work cut out for us right now — we're going to have a lot of angry people that just don't understand why it went this way."
The union says neither its workers nor the city can afford another strike.
"This is about getting a negotiated settlement on a good path with our employees and the transit riders," said Deans.
The city and the union still haven't settled scheduling issues from the last contract, which expired last week. The union says it won't talk about a new contract until the old contract is settled.
The outstanding issue of OC Transpo's scheduling system — detailing how bus drivers would be assigned and how long shifts would be — was a sticking point that delayed contract negotiations between the city and the union.