Manitoba

Dispute between city, transit drivers scaring riders who depend on bus, councillors say

Two Winnipeg councillors are sounding off on the divisive contract negotiations between the city and transit staff.

Councillors press mayor to intervene as failed negotiations escalate risk of Winnipeg Transit strike

Councillors Jason Schreyer and Ross Eadie speak with reporters Thursday alongside ATU local president Aleem Chaudhary. The councillors say the ongoing bargaining dispute between the city and Winnipeg Transit workers and the prospect of a strike are troubling to those who depend on buses. (CBC)

Two Winnipeg councillors are sounding off on the divisive contract negotiations between the city and transit staff.

Councillors Ross Eadie and Jason Schreyer held a news conference Thursday where they said escalating tensions between Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 and the city are scaring bus riders.

Talks between the city and the union — which represents about 1,400 drivers, mechanics and other workers — have broken down, and the possibility of a strike has loomed for months.

The pair of councillors said they are shocked by the tone of the negotiations. They want Mayor Brian Bowman to step in and de-escalate.

"They need to direct senior management to be less combative, recognize the legitimate needs of the workers and to stop scaring independent transit users by pushing ATU toward the strike," Schreyer said.

Vulnerable Winnipeggers will be affected if there's a transit strike, Schreyer said.

Eadie said he's one of thousands who depend on the bus.

"This dysfunctional, combative collective bargaining process is scaring the hell out of dependent transit users like myself — people with disabilities, people who aren't earning a huge living — and it's got to stop," said Eadie, who is blind and takes transit frequently.

"That's the message we're trying to get across to the mayor. He has the ability to provide direction to the senior management."

Winnipeg Transit workers have been without a contract since January. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

ATU Local 1505 president Aleem Chaudhary stands with the councillors.

"We do appreciate the backing we're getting from both councillors," he said. "It's a good start and I think the people are starting to wake up as to what's going on."

Winnipeg Transit operators have been without a contract since January, and union membership voted overwhelmingly for a strike mandate in April. Despite that mandate, union representatives have said they have no plans to walk off the job.

The union and its members have rejected the offers put forward by the city. The fourth and most recent was delivered in early August and was described as a final offer by Winnipeg chief corporate services officer Michael Jack.

That offer included four wage increases of two per cent each year.

Two days into mediation and there were no positive results, Jack said at the time.

"We feel that we have presented a fair and reasonable offer to the ATU, and urge the union to carefully consider it," city spokesperson David Driedger said in an emailed statement. 

"Should the ATU membership reject our final offer, the City will consider all options available to an employer under the Labour Relations Act to conclude the matter."

The union has already organized several work actions to emphasize displeasure with the series of deals put forward by the city.

Councillors Schreyer and Eadie said bus drivers' concerns, which include a desire to have more freedom in choosing what shifts they want and to be able to take breaks, are valid issues.

"I think at the end we will come through this," Chaudhary said.

 

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Bryce Hoye

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Bryce Hoye is an award-winning journalist and science writer with a background in wildlife biology and interests in courts, social justice, health and more. Story idea? Email bryce.hoye@cbc.ca.

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