Calgary

Calgary Transit union alarmed over mid-pandemic switch to contract workers

A Calgary Transit decision to switch to an outside contractor to service and clean city buses will cost 110 unionized workers their jobs.

110 unionized workers who service and clean city buses will lose their jobs

The union representing Calgary Transit workers says it's irresponsible to contract out work during a global pandemic. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

The workers who service and clean Calgary Transit buses before they head out on routes will soon be replaced by an outside contractor.

Calgary Transit is moving forward with a longstanding plan to contract out its service lane positions. Earlier this year, Transit had started a procurement process and awarded a contract at the end of February.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and plans to make the switch were stalled.

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 583 says this move will put 110 people out of work. The union says it's a devastating blow — especially after working on the front line and risking their well-being during the pandemic.

"It's heartbreaking that they would put these people out on the street," said union president Mike Mahar. 

Mike Mahar, president of Calgary's transit union, says bus maintenance is an essential component of the service. (Helen Pike/CBC)

The employer says it's strictly a business decision that will save the city about $5 million a year.

Mahar warns that the city's new contractor could put service and the safety of riders in danger with substandard work. He says part of what the service lane workers do is keep buses clean and fuelled, ensuring the vehicles are serviced and ready for their routes.

"If they don't do that properly, then they're going to have a lot more breakdowns," Mahar said. 

During the pandemic, he notes, workers were figuring out day-to-day how to keep operations going, adjusting practices and getting a handle on staffing and workflows.

Mahar worries about what will happen when school and work start back up in September and things become busier.

Outsourcing always the plan

"The potential for the system to be affected enough that it would shut it down at least temporarily is very real," he said.

Mahar says the union and its workers were caught off guard. In discussions with Calgary Transit, he says the employer estimated this work wouldn't start until October. 

Russell Davies, the acting director of Calgary Transit, says it is unfortunate but a necessary move. Now that operations and cleaning procedures have been established to keep riders and operators safe during the pandemic, service is ramping up in time for September.

"We're taking an opportunity to stage the contracting out in phases," Davies said. "We're doing that facility by facility rather than en masse." 

Calgary Transit says contract offers flexibility

He says the first phase won't affect any positions, as they had already been eliminated as a pandemic measure.

It's estimated this move to a contractor will save the city up to $5 million a year, and Davies says the contract will give them more flexibility in these uncertain times. 

"I think one of the advantages of contracted services is that if we find that we want to do a slightly different function or perform more cleaning or even less … we can actually turn that dial up and down far easier than we can with actual full-time employees."

Davies says he's confident the contractor will fulfil the job requirements, adding it's not about the current staff's quality of work, it was a purely financial and business decision for Calgary Transit.

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