Nfld. & Labrador

Metrobus union president talking strike after negotiations stall with City of St. John's

The union has set Oct. 5 as a tentative strike date so city can "see the seriousness of where we're coming from," says president Paul Churchill.

Union says city has treated Metrobus employees unfairly during talks

Paul Churchill, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1462, says the City of St. John's has treated the union unfairly in negotiations for a new deal. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

With negotiations for a new deal with the City of St. John's at a standstill, Metrobus drivers and maintenance workers are considering striking with a vote coming Thursday, according to their union president.

Paul Churchill, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1462, said the union has been working on a new deal with the city since May 2019, and he blamed the city for a recent breakdown in talks.

"They're not willing to be fair, and treat us the same as every other worker in the city," he said Tuesday. "All we're asking for is for the city to be fair. If they're asking us to take what the city got, we should receive what the city got."

Churchill said the union has been working to achieve a full severance package for Metrobus workers, additional sick leave and a shift premium for those working after 7 p.m.

Drivers and workers should be rewarded for their work during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, he added, but he accused the city of not being there for the union the same way Metrobus was there for the city.

 "I'm very proud of my members. They stepped up to the plate," he said. "There was essential workers out there, and people had doctors' appointments and stuff. We were out there [on the] front line when we were at the peak of the curve."

City hoping to avoid strike, Lane

Coun. Dave Lane, council's representative on the city transportation commission that operates Metrobus, said he has seen how valuable Metrobus and its workers are to the city and hopes to avoid a strike.

"The impasse that we're at with the negotiations right now are in no way reflective of a disrespect or an undervaluing of the workers," he said during a press conference Tuesday.

"Hopefully people will see how much commitment we do have to the transit system. So what we're working toward, and hopefully we can get through, is toward an agreement that works for everybody — union and commission and city hall together."

Coun. Dave Lane says the city hopes to avoid a strike but is not able to enhance an unspecified benefit that he says is a sticking point in negotiations. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

In an email to CBC News, city officials say the want for enhanced severance is serving as a sticking point that led to the breakdown in talks. According to the city, the current benefit is one day of pay per one year of service. It says every additional day of severance pay would cost $440,000 once applied to all Metrobus employees.

Lane said the city is not in a financial position to enhance benefits, and that the city deals with a number of unions with each agreement being unique. 

"It's not comparing apples to apples," he said. "There is still some wiggle room, and it's worth discussing before we have a strike."

Churchill said no further meetings with the city have been scheduled, and he will bring the the idea of a strike vote to the union's general meeting Sunday. He originally said a strike vote would happen at the union's general meeting on that day, but the date has since been changed to Thursday, Sept. 24.

"[Strikes] are never nice, but sometimes that has to happen for people to listen," he said. "We just feel that we've been pushed aside, and treated differently than everyone else."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Jeremy Eaton

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