Winnipeg guilty of unfair labour practice against transit operators, Manitoba Labour Board says

The Manitoba Labour Board has ruled against the City of Winnipeg in a dispute over tactics in a strike by transit drivers and staff in 2019, saying it threatened union members with disciplinary action for not collecting fares.

Labour board sides with union in dispute over 2019 strike tactics in what ATU calls 'huge win'

A Manitoba Labour Board ruling says drivers had the right not to tell passengers they had to pay fares and the city's response threatened legal strike activities. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

A threat of disciplinary action against transit operators by the City of Winnipeg during a strike nearly two years ago has been found to be an unfair labour practice.

In May 2019, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505, which represents nearly 1,400 Winnipeg Transit workers, directed its members not to tell passengers they had to pay fares to ride the bus.

The city responded by saying transit operators could face discipline for following the ATU directions.

The ATU and its members were in a legal strike position at the time of the dispute with the city.

The Manitoba Labour Board issued a verdict this week saying the action taken by the union was a legal part of their strike activities and ruled the city did not have the right to threaten disciplinary action against drivers for not collecting fares.

"Threatening employees for engaging in lawful strike activity is a serious unfair labour practice that strikes at the heart of the legislation," says the decision by the labour board.

If the city doesn't agree with the decision, it could ask for a judicial review of the matter.

ATU president Romeo Ignacio said he hopes the city is willing to acknowledge its mistakes and commit to rebuilding its relationship with the union and its members. 

"As we are currently reviewing the ruling, we are not able to provide comment at this time," a spokesperson for the City of Winnipeg said.

On May 14, 2019, the city posted and sent warnings to the union.

"Any failure to follow the responsibilities of your role as described in the Bus Operators Manual, other policy documents or provided verbally, by supervisory personnel, may result in disciplinary action," the warnings said.

Michael Jack, at the time the city's corporate services officer, told media there could be "possible job consequences" for any city employees who didn't do their jobs properly.

The labour board's ruling cited a section of the operator manual describing the duty of a bus driver to "inform passengers of a proper fare, not enforce fare collection." 

Former ATU staffer Zach Fleisher wrote the 2019 pamphlet telling drivers not to monitor fare payments. 

He called the labour board decision "a clear victory for workers," suggesting there must have been a breakdown in the decision process at the city when it threatened the drivers.

"It's clear there was political direction that didn't follow legal advice, or didn't get legal advice," Fleisher said. "The question for the city with this decision is what have you learned?"

The board could have imposed a fine on the city of up to $2,000 per driver, the decision says, but the union had only sought "declaratory relief" and did not ask for a financial penalty.

The ATU said it isn't looking for money from the city but does want recognition of its grievances.

"[We] understand the challenges the city is facing due to the ongoing pandemic, and asking for monetary compensation will only exacerbate the city's inability to improve transit service for our fellow Winnipeggers," Ignacio said.  

There are a number of outstanding issues between the two sides, despite reaching a contract deal in 2019. 


  • An earlier version of this story said that if the city doesn't agree with the Manitoba Labour Board decision, the matter could be sent to an arbitrator. In fact, the decision says there is recourse for examination by judicial review.
    Jan 12, 2021 5:26 PM CT