New Brunswick

Acadian Lines lockout interrupts Maritime businesses

The president of the Amalgamated Transit Union local 1229 said Sunday a federal conciliator will try to get both sides of the contract dispute together on Monday.

Businesses in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island are beginning to feel the impact of the Acadian Bus Lines lockout as the work stoppage heads into its fourth day.

About 60 drivers, maintenance workers and customer service representatives have been on the picket lines since Friday morning after the company locked them out.

The work stoppage has reduced travel options for many Maritime residents, but it is also disrupting several businesses that relied on the bus service.

Gilles LaForest has owned a combination gas station, convenience store in Grand Falls, N.B., for 27 years.

Last year, he added Acadian Bus Lines to that list, selling tickets and sending and receiving parcels. He said three buses a day makes it a good part of his business.

"We got people coming by to pick up packages, or drop somebody, or pick up somebody. So they walk inside the store and they buy stuff there," LaForest said.

"But now we don't have that anymore."

Acadian Lines also stops at a Florenceville, N.B., store owned by Khalil Al-Mughrabi.

The lack of bus service means he's not only losing business, but he's also not getting important deliveries.

"We have the Globe and Mail that comes here every Saturday, and customers came and said, 'Where are the newspapers?'  And I said, the bus is not running and therefore there's no newspaper," he said.

Al-Mughrabi said there are about a dozen people who come to his western New Brunswick store strictly to buy the Saturday newspaper. So as long as the contract dispute lingers, he said those people won’t be coming to his store.

But it isn’t just the lack of newspaper service that is causing frustration in Florenceville. Al-Mughrabi said he's also hearing from customers who are worried about how the dispute is going to hurt their holiday travel and ability to ship gifts.

The president of the Amalgamated Transit Union local 1229 said Sunday a federal conciliator will try to get both sides of the contract dispute together on Monday.

Glen Carr, president of the union, said on Sunday that he is prepared to go back to negotiations with the company as soon as possible.

The two sides were in contract negotiations for 11 months that yielded no results. The union voted 88 per cent to reject a contract offer last month.

The bus company was offering a contract that was worth zero per cent over the next five years when the talks broke down in October, according to the union. The union said the bus company has since offered the workers a one per cent annual raise beginning next July.

The union wants at least a cost of living increase for bus drivers, mechanics, maintenance workers and customer service representatives.

The bus company said its New Brunswick operation is losing money and that it may need to cut jobs or raise ticket prices.

While the biggest impact will be felt in New Brunswick and on Prince Edward Island, the dispute's impacts will also be felt in Nova Scotia and Quebec.

Bus subsidy urged

A citizens' lobby group is arguing the work stoppage is unfair to students and low-income groups who depend on the bus service. 

John Pearce, a spokesman for the Transport Action Atlantic, said the government should subsidize bus travel in New Brunswick.

He said airports, rail lines, ferries and even the highway system get help, so bus companies should also receive financial assistance.

Pearce said two per cent of the provincial highway budget would keep the buses rolling.

"The government would control what routes are done and if there were losses, as there might be in some of the rural routes, then the province would support it," Pearce said.

He said the New Brunswick government should follow the model of the Saskatchewan government, which subsidizes the inter-city bus system in that province. Pearce said the intra-city bus service connects 275 rural communities in Saskatchewan.