'Illegal and illegitimate': City official rips transit union over 2nd no-fare job action

A work action planned for Thursday that would see Winnipeg Transit drivers refuse to enforce fares on buses for the second time in five weeks is illegal and illegitimate, a top city official says.

City considering another labour board complaint, says lockout on the table

Winnipeg Transit operators won't enforce a fare Thursday. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

A planned work action by Winnipeg Transit drivers to not enforce fares on buses Thursday is illegal and illegitimate, a top city official says. 

"We're not happy to be in this scenario," Michael Jack, Winnipeg's chief corporate services officer, said Wednesday. "We don't consider it legitimate or legal."

Hours before bargaining talks with the city began, the Amalgamated Transit Union announced through a written statement Wednesday morning, its members will not ask riders to pay the following day.

"We're taking this step because the City of Winnipeg isn't listening to our proposals and isn't showing a willingness to bargain in good faith,'' said Aleem Chaudhary, ATU 1505 president.

Michael Jack, chief corporate services officer, said a decision by ATU members not to enforce fares on buses Thursday constitutes an illegal strike action. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Drivers won't enforce fare payment Thursday, including during the anticipated rush toward Investors Group Field for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Canadian Football League home-opener.

The work action is the latest step by the union — which represents 1,400 mechanics, drivers and other Winnipeg Transit workers — amid escalating tensions between it and the city.

It's the second time in just over a month drivers won't enforce payment; they did so on May 14. Most riders apparently paid that day, though the city lost out on as much as $45,000 from those who didn't, the city says.

The city filed a complaint with the Manitoba Labour Board after the May work action but has yet to hold a hearing. Jack said Winnipeg may consider filing a second complaint after Thursday's job action. 

When asked whether the city is considering a lockout, Jack said all options are on the table.

"When we're dealing with someone who's instituting job action, someone who is particularly taking illegal strike action against the city we have to consider every tool in the tool box," Jack said.

Union, city still far apart

The union and the city are "still quite far apart," the ATU said, citing a refusal to set standards for operating schedules, an unwillingness to have riders represented on internal decision-making committees and the city's plans to bring in more part-time operators at lower wages without benefits or pensions.

Jack called the later statement an "outright falsehood." He appeared to deny part-time drivers would be paid less, and said there was nothing in the city's offer that would affect flexible part-time drivers's benefits and pensions.

Felicia Wiltshire, a city spokesperson, later clarified Jack's statement and said he was only referring to the union's concerns about benefits and pensions, not wages, which Wiltshire confirms the city is offering at a lower hourly rate than what is currently paid to transit operators. 

"Frankly, our members and the riding public deserve better from our city," Chaudhary said.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 president Aleem Chaudhary. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

At the end of May, union members voted 96.9 per cent in favour of rejecting a four-year deal. It was the latest of two proposed deals — which the city characterized as a fair, reasonable, "final offer" — and the rejection stoked fears of a possible transit strike on the horizon.

A few days later the union barred its members from taking on voluntary overtime.

Less than two weeks after that, the union brought in the international president of the Amalgamated Transit Union from Washington, D.C., to advise the local contingent on its negotiation strategy.

Representatives from both the city and the ATU meet one more time —  on Thursday — before resuming talks in the presence of a provincially appointed conciliator on July 2. 

Winnipeg Transit workers haven't gone on strike since 1976.

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