Hamilton bus drivers reject final offer, strike possible in early December

Members of the local union representing Hamilton bus drivers voted over 97 per cent in favour of rejecting the city's latest offer and authorizing job action up to and including a strike.

Top issues include access and time to use washrooms, wages, and benefits

Over 97 per cent of the local union representing Hamilton bus drivers have voted in favour of rejecting the city's final offer and authorizing job action, up to and including a strike. (GoFundMe)

Members of the local union representing Hamilton bus drivers have rejected the city's latest offer, which means a strike could be on its way. 

Earlier this week, members of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 107 voted over 97.6 per cent in favour of rejecting the offer and authorizing job action "up to, and including, a strike." 

The earliest a strike could happen is the week of Dec. 9.

The union has since invited Hamilton Street Railway back to the bargaining table in order to avoid job action. 

In a press release, the union explained that the offer on the table was unacceptable because it failed to "keep pace with inflation or industry standards on wages" and "[clawed] back benefits."

The union added that while it doesn't want to strike or cause a disruption to services, it's clear that its members are not happy with the offer. 

ATU local 107 represents 800 employees, with 570 drivers and the rest being maintenance and administration staff. All would be affected. 

5-minute washroom break 

Union president Eric Tuck said that there are still three major stumbling blocks in negotiations, one of these being access and time to use washrooms. Tuck explained that because of increased traffic, drivers' schedules are getting tighter, which means they often don't get to take recovery time at the end of a line. 

He said that while the two sides are close to agreeing to putting washrooms at the end of the line, management refuses to give a dedicated five minutes for drivers to use them. 

"The fact that in this day and age this union has to negotiate access to washrooms and time to use these washrooms is absurd [and] outright insulting to our membership" said Tuck.

"There's a lot of serious health risks associated with prolonged sitting and that kind of thing," he said. "So to ask for five minutes is not unreasonable. Over the case of an eight or nine hour day, you're looking at about 40 to 45 minutes, which is pretty similar to what every other worker in this country gets." 

Tuck noted that transit drivers are exempt from getting coffee breaks or lunch breaks. 

Increased traffic and road density means drivers' schedules are getting tighter, says local union president. And that means drivers aren't getting recovery time. (CBC)

Members are also advocating for minimum rest periods between shifts. The ATU said their members have "voiced disappointment" and "expressed complete anger" on "management's refusal to address longstanding health and safety issues." 

The other blocks, Tuck says, are wages and benefits. 

Earliest strike can happen is December

The city of Hamilton tabled the offer on Nov. 1. after negotiating with the union over 19 days. After it was presented to union members earlier this week, people were given 48 hours to review the offer and ask questions before they cast their ballot. 

The city has a week to 10 days from the vote for its negotiating team to approach council for a mandate to come back to the bargaining table. If nothing happens, the union will apply for a "no board" report on Nov. 22, meaning the earliest a legal strike can happen is 17 days later. 

City spokesperson Jacqueline Durlov told CBC Hamilton that "the city remains hopeful that a negotiated settlement can be reached at the bargaining table."

 She added that the likelihood of a labour disruption is difficult to assess at this point, but regular updates will be communicated as the city becomes better aware of any potential impact to service.