Transit workers vote on contract as bus service shutdown looms

About 1,400 bus drivers, mechanics and other workers have rejected three settlement offers from the city of Winnipeg so far. A fourth 'no' on Friday would open the door to a strike or the city could potentially lock them out — leaving thousands of passengers looking for a ride.

Lockout or strike possible as union members consider city's fourth contract offer

Transit takes in approximately $145,000 in fares on an average day. Klein says it's worth forgoing the revenue to make voting easier. (CBC )

A decision this Friday by bus drivers, mechanics and other workers could see thousands of Winnipeggers looking for a ride next week.

Ryan Muir is one of approximately 170,000 daily bus riders in the city.

Muir doesn't have a vehicle and the bus is his sole means of getting to work.

"I use the bus literally every day. Especially because I work far — I'm not going to walk to work every day. I mean I could but I am a little too lazy for that and I don't want to. I hope they don't go on strike," Muir told CBC News as he waited for his bus on Portage Avenue. 

Muir's message to both sides is simple: "Settle it quick because they are probably going to have a lot of angry people, right." 

Daily bus rider Ryan Muir's message to union and city: settle before a strike or face plenty of angry bus commuters. (John Einarson CBC)

The 1,400 or so members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 vote this week on the fourth and "final" offer from the city on a new contract.

The union has a strike mandate and has rejected three previous offers from the city since contract negotiations began several months ago. Both sides have fired shots at each other as the dispute remains unresolved.

Mayor Brian Bowman, who in December declared 2019 "the year of transit," has warned there may be a strike in September.

A spokesperson for Bowman told CBC News Monday the mayor "has recommended that residents already begin to make alternate transportation plans should transit services not be available due to a decision by the ATU to strike."

The city's chief corporate services officer Michael Jack won't rule out a lockout and has projected that "a strike will be initiated by the ATU during the fall schedule when it will be most disruptive to passengers and residents."

ATU president Aleem Chaudhary says the city 'seems to be hinting toward the fact that they might lock us out.' (Gary Solilak CBC )

The city's offer includes four annual wage hikes of two per cent. The ATU has proposed a 2.75 per cent increase in each year of the four-year deal.

ATU president Aleem Chaudhary says the union's biggest concern is over scheduling processes, not money.

Last Thursday the city announced it would make changes to how workers are scheduled.

Winnipeg's chief corporate services officer Michael Jack believes the ATU is 'positioning itself to be able to take strike action in September.' (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Transit operators will no longer be able to request shift trades or vacation switches for the remainder of the year, and they will be assigned day off groups and schedules when the fall schedule comes into effect on Sept. 1.

The ATU took another shot at the city late last week, calling for the municipality's integrity commissioner to investigate a potential breach of its code of conduct.

Mayor Bowman remains committed to his statement that this is "the year of transit," citing investments in security for drivers, a freeze in bus fares, and more money for new buses.

It's a service, his spokesperson wrote, "that cannot be delivered without its valuable employees."

A decision this Friday by bus drivers, mechanics and other workers could see thousands of Winnipeggers looking for a ride next week. 1:32