OC Transpo head appeals to union via YouTube before transit vote
Feds unlikely to legislate union back to work: transport minister
Last Updated: Wednesday, January 7, 2009 | 2:27 PM ET
Ottawa's municipal transit company has turned to YouTube in the hopes of encouraging drivers to vote Thursday for the city's latest contract offer and end a transit strike that entered its fifth week Wednesday.
Alain Mercier, general manager of OC Transpo, posted a six-minute video on the internet site Wednesday morning explaining the city's position to members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279, which represents about 2,300 transit drivers, dispatchers and maintenance staff.
"The latest contract offer is designed to address your long-standing issues and inequities," Mercier said in the video.
Regarding the city's controversial scheduling proposal — the main issue of disagreement between the city and the union — Mercier said the new proposal is intended to improve scheduling by "providing more realistic run times, offering you the ability to get out of your seat between trips."
'I don't believe it's been well explained to the public as to how we schedule our work today as opposed to the way the schedule will affect us when the city takes over that scheduling.'— Suzanne Pelletier, transit driver
He added that the city has offered to hire a union member for 18 months to help make the transition to the new system.
The union alleges that the scheduling proposal would interfere with drivers' ability to balance their work schedules and their personal lives.
Under the new system, drivers would no longer be able to pick morning and afternoon shifts separately. Instead, they would have to choose shifts that have already been paired up by the city.
Mercier alleged he had offered to answer questions at a union information meeting about the contract earlier this week, but union president André Cornellier ignored a written request and hung up the phone when he called.
"As a result, I'm very concerned many of you have not had the opportunity to review the true offer," he said.
At the city's request, Federal Labour Minister Rona Ambrose ordered members of ATU 279 to vote on the city's Dec. 23 offer, and the vote is scheduled for Thursday.
Driver confident union will vote No
OC Transpo driver Suzanne Pelletier said she is confident drivers will vote down the contract but that the union does have a backup plan if that doesn't happen.
"Plan B is we have three years to do this contract, and we'll put up the fight again in three years if that's what it means," she told CBC's Ottawa Morning Wednesday.
Pelletier, who has been a transit driver for 20 years, said it's frustrating that a recent poll commissioned by the city suggested a majority of Ottawa residents support the city rather than the union in the dispute.
"I don't believe it's been well explained to the public as to how we schedule our work today as opposed to the way the schedule will affect us when the city takes over that scheduling," she said.
She said based on the examples that the city has given for the new scheduling system, it looks like drivers will all have work days that are at least 12 hours long, including a break in the middle.
The city won't guarantee that under the new scheduling system there will still be the same number of straight shifts — shifts that aren't split by a break in the middle of the day. Many drivers work split shifts because there is a heavier demand for transit during the morning and afternoon rush hours.
Ottawa city councillor Peggy Feltmate, who represents the Kanata South ward, said she has received many e-mails from constituents who don't want the city to back down from its position.
"For me, it's about two-thirds [who] are saying, 'You know, stick with your guns, hang tough there,' and the other one-third is really saying 'You know, I don't care what it takes ... solve this problem.'"
Meanwhile, Transport Minister John Baird said Wednesday there isn't much chance that the Conservative government will move to declare OC Transpo an essential service, as it would take too long to get the legislation through Parliament. The federal government, rather than Ontario, has authority over OC Transpo because some routes travel into Quebec.
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