Craig Watson said negotiating a new Para Transpo contract is also important to him. (CBC)

The incoming head of the union representing OC Transpo workers said he wants to take on the contentious issue of scheduling so it becomes a "non-issue" when it's time to negotiate the next contract with the city.

On Saturday members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279 voted Craig Watson as their new president, replacing Garry Queale. Vice-president Mike Aldrich was also voted out in favour of Sharon Bow.

Watson, who takes over July 1, said he wants to bury the issue of scheduling once and for all.

"I want it to definitely be solved long before we get to another contract. We've got four years to a contract, or three and a half, so I'm sure that by then this will be completely a non-issue," said Watson.

Scheduling was a divisive issue during the 53-day strike in 2008 and 2009.

Watson said what drivers want and what customers want is the same thing — "attainable" schedules that don't require drivers to rush past stops. Drivers have fought with previous OC Transpo management over control of how the bus scheduling system is run, and want more input.

The issue also arises because many drivers work split shifts — with part of their shift in the morning and part of it in the afternoon, with breaks in between, to accommodate customers' peak travel periods. About 50 runs for drivers break down into three pieces — with downtime in between —spread out over 12 hours.

Watson says the ultimate goal is to eliminate the three-piece split shift entirely.

But he said he's adamant employees won't have to walk off the job to get there.

"The goal is to avoid confrontation at all costs. My goal is not to have a strike in any way, shape or form," said Watson.

Changes at the top

The turnover at the top of the union executive is somewhat surprising, given that only months earlier Queale and Aldrich had helped negotiate a new collective agreement members overwhelmingly supported.

About 85 per cent of some 2,300 members approved the four-year deal that gave members a two per-cent wage increase over the next three years and a 2.25 per cent hike in 2015.

But Queale said the message he heard from members was that they wanted more attention paid to scheduling.

Queale said he had made it a sidebar issue and had struck a working group to look into resolving outstanding disputes.

"The operators felt that I guess they weren't represented well enough in the scheduling issue, and it's still a major issue, and that's basically where it goes from there," said Queale.

Transit commissioner Diane Deans said she isn't worried about the change in negotiating partners.

"I don't think there's any reason to worry about that at all. We have a four-year collective agreement in place that I think everyone's happy with and we have promised to try and work on these scheduling issues collaboratively," she said.

Queale said he wishes the new union leadership well and said Saturday's vote was "democracy in action."

"I'm not overly disappointed. I'm relieved," he said.