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Hamilton transit union moves closer to strike

Hamilton’s transit union has made a request with the Ministry of Labour that would legally allow its members to go on strike next month.

Bus drivers and mechanics could go on strike in the first week of April

Discussions between the city and Hamilton's transit union have been crawling, the head of the union says. (Adam Carter/CBC)

Hamilton’s transit union has made a request with the Ministry of Labour that would legally allow its members to go on strike next month, three months before thousands flock to the city for the Pan Am Games.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 107 made application to the ministry for a no board report on Wednesday, which essentially puts the union in a legal lockout or strike position as of the first week of April. The move puts pressure on a city that hopes to present its best image when it hosts the soccer games for the 2015 Pan Am Games in July. 

Union president Eric Tuck says the city has been dragging its heels on talks for months.

“We wanted to get talks going back in October,” Tuck said. “It’s been an extremely slow process.

At least four other unions are also bargaining with the city right now, and their contracts all expired on Dec. 31. The union will have a strike vote on March 29 if a settlement can't be reached.

Despite sending notice to the city back in the middle of October, Tucks says the union was told in no uncertain terms that due to the municipal elections, no talks would happen before mid-January.

In the last 10 years the transit system has been severely underfunded.- Eric Tuck, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 107 president

The two sides have been meeting since Jan. 19, but with little progress. They’ve been stuck on discussions about working conditions, meaning cash – a sticking point in almost any negotiation process – hasn’t even been discussed at all.

The city is aware that the transit union has filed a no board report, city spokesperson Kelly Anderson told CBC Hamilton. "The city has scheduled dates to continue negotiations with the union and remains hopeful that a negotiated settlement can be reached at the bargaining table," she said.

Tuck says that Hamilton's transit system has been "seriously underfunded and neglected for a number of years," and that has made for shoddy working conditions.

“A commitment to safe and reasonable schedules is crucial to our members’ health and well-being, and is in the best interest of our passengers,” he said.

Transit funding has been the catalyst for hours of contentious debate at city hall in recent months.

Councillors have sparred over using provincial funds to build light rail transit and more recently, over a $300-million transit plan that would bolster bus service and build a new garage to house new buses.

Tuck says an infusion of cash into the city’s transit system is necessary. “In the last 10 years the transit system has been severely underfunded.”

The city is working on back-up plans in case one of more of its unions — including transit drivers, landscapers, garbage collectors, and others — are on strike for the Pan Am Games.

The city is working on “contingency plans” in case one or more of the unions is in the midst of labour unrest during the Games, scheduled for July 10 to 26, said Gerry Davis, head of public works, in January. He wouldn’t say what the plans are.

“Hopefully we don’t have any form of disruption, but we are planning,” he said.

With files from Samantha Craggs

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