The chair of York Region says he won't intervene in a six-week-old transit strike, though he wants both sides to reach a deal.
Speaking at a news conference in Newmarket, Ont., on Friday, Bill Fisch said the negotiations are up to the striking unions and the private companies that York Region contracts out its transit to.
"The contractors and the unions need to get together, have those discussions. There are offers on the table that have not been reviewed, and our position is that they need to go back to the table," Fisch said.
"At least talk! For six weeks, no one's even said a word. The people who are supposed to be doing that are not doing that…. That's what we are very, very upset about."
Nearly 600 drivers and maintenance staff at have been off the job since Oct. 24, affecting 50,000 commuters on more than 80 routes in Markham, Vaughan, Richmond Hill and northern York Region. The employees are from three contracted companies: First Student Canada, Miller Transit and Veolia Transportation, which runs York Region's Viva bus rapid transit service.
'Losing our homes'
Transit driver Kerry Hackett said the strike has been just as hard on workers as it is for stranded commuters.
"There are a lot of us that are losing our homes. There are a lot of us that our bill collectors are phoning," she said. "People have lost their phones, people have lost their cars, insurance due to this."
Employees were hoping the regional government would step in and help bring an end to the labour dispute, since it hired the contractors. But the many drivers who attended Friday's announcement by Fisch were disappointed.
"It's not us that are not wanting to come back. We need to come back not just for ourselves, but more for our public," Hackett said.
The main issues for the York Region Transit workers are wages and benefits. The private bus companies pay $7 an hour less than drivers get in neighbouring communities, according to the Amalgamated Transit Union.
Employees have been picketing bus garages to delay vehicle departures. Last week, 200 of them picketed outside Finch subway station in Toronto for two hours, blocking York Regional Transit buses from entering and dropping off passengers.
The two union locals involved in the labour dispute say both sides are still far apart in negotiations and binding arbitration is the only way the dispute will be solved.
But Ontario Labour Minister Linda Jeffrey says the province is not considering forcing an end to the strike, adding that provincial mediators are available to help bring the two sides together.