Manitoba

Transit union plans job action that could turn Tuesday into 'free ride day' in Winnipeg

The union representing Winnipeg Transit workers — which has been in a strike position for a month — is planning job action that could turn Tuesday into "free ride day" on city buses.

Bus drivers won't enforce fare payment on Tuesday as contract talks drag on

Winnipeg Transit offers free rides on New Year's Eve. The union representing transit workers is planning a similar offer Tuesday as part of a job action. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

The union representing Winnipeg Transit workers — which has been in a strike position for a month — is planning job action that could turn Tuesday into "free ride day" on city buses.

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505, which represents almost 1,400 transit workers, is asking operators not to inform passengers how much it costs to ride the bus or enforce fare payments on Tuesday.

"As far as the union and our membership is concerned, it's free ride day for everybody out there," ATU 1505 president Aleem Chaudhary said Sunday.

"We're not going on a full strike. We're not walking the picket lines. One of the main reasons we don't want to do that is we don't want to inconvenience the public.

"Rather than disrupt the lives of many, many thousands of people, who go to work and go about their daily business, we would rather provide the service, but at the same time, we want to take job action."

President of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Aleem Chaudhary, says operators will not inform passengers how much it costs to ride the bus or enforce fare payments on Tuesday. (Chris Stanton/CBC)

The union's last collective bargaining agreement with the city expired in January. Transit workers rejected a city contract offer in April in a vote that saw 98 per cent of ATU members vote against the deal.

Chaudhary says negotiations since that vote have failed to yield significant progress, at least to the satisfaction of his members.

"Our negotiations are slowing down and our membership is getting really frustrated with the fact they're not being respected," he said.

"The morale in the whole garage is very low at this point and management is ignoring a lot of the stuff that's going on. Our membership is tired and they want to let them know they want attention — and they want it now."

Chaudhary declined to reveal what specifically his union does not like about the city's offer, but notes the city has not dealt with working conditions that have led to 10-per-cent annual turnover among transit drivers.

He also claimed Winnipeg spends less on its transit service, per capita, than other mid-sized Canadian cities.

Throughout 2018, his union also complained about driver safety and claimed fare disputes were a key factor in assaults on transit operators.

Tuesday's job action will address that complaint. There's also a tactical component of the ploy, as the city could lose revenue from passengers who take advantage of the absence of fare enforcement by operators.

The city could lose revenue from passengers who take advantage of the absence of fare enforcement by operators. (CBC)

"They will have the right to ignore people who are not paying, if they choose to," Chaudhary said.

The city said the action is not legal.

"We are aware of a post on ATU's website indicating that their bargaining committee decided to engage in job action. While the post was subsequently removed, it would constitute illegal job action," City of Winnipeg communications manager David Driedger said in a statement.

Winnipeg chief corporate services officer Michael Jack says he expects transit drivers who show up for work on Tuesday to do their jobs — and those jobs involve collecting and enforcing fare payment.

Chaudhary says there is nothing illegal about asking his drivers not to offer information about fares or enforce them.

"That might be their opinion. We don't think it's illegal. We're in a legal strike position," he said.

The city and the transit union are still negotiating and have new dates set aside for talks. The union cancelled talks planned for Monday, Mayor Brian Bowman says.

"The city is committed to negotiating in a fair and reasonable manner with ATU, and is hoping for a successful conclusion to collective bargaining that won't result in any disruption to transit service for the thousands of users that rely on it every day," Driedger said.

The union representing Winnipeg Transit workers — which has been in a strike position for a month — is planning job action that could turn Tuesday into "free ride day" on city buses. 2:02

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