Nova Scotia

Halifax transit talks break off

The two sides in the Metro Transit contract dispute failed to come to an agreement as a marathon bargaining session ended Thursday morning when the union representing striking workers walked out.

Strike by bus, ferry workers into 2nd week

The two sides in the Metro Transit contract dispute failed to come to an agreement as a marathon bargaining session ended Thursday morning when the union representing striking workers walked out.

Ken Wilson, with Local 508 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, said there is no common ground after 20 hours of talks so there is no point in continuing.

"We thought we could come here, get a deal, get it back to the members to vote and get the buses on the road as soon as that could possibly happen," Wilson told reporters.

"Right now there's no deal, no likelihood of the buses going on the road anytime soon. So public, buckle in."

The Halifax Regional Municipality said the union won't budge on its $8.8-million proposal.

"Our residents are anxious to see buses and ferries back in service and believe an affordable resolution to this work stoppage should be reached," Mayor Peter Kelly said in a statement.

An estimated 50,000 to 55,000 people have been without bus and ferry service every day since the strike began last Thursday.

The latest round of negotiations with a conciliator began Wednesday, with the two sides presenting new contract offers to each other. Talks continued well into the night.

Each side presented new offer

HRM said it offered a lump sum payment worth 2.5 per cent of wages in the first year, a 2.5 per cent hike in the second year, and a two per cent increase the following year.

The municipality said it can only afford the salary hikes if it brings in a rostering schedule system, which it claims would cut down overtime costs, along with a new wage system for new workers.

But the union wants much more, according to HRM.

"Make no mistake: contrary to ATU's claims, it is about the money," said Metro Transit director Eddie Robar.

HRM said the union wants wage increases of 2.5 per cent, three per cent and 2.75 per cent, and no changes to the scheduling system or wage restructuring for new employees.

Currently, transit workers choose shifts to make up a week's worth, based on seniority. If they get off early they can work another shift as overtime.

"All we're doing is taking those shifts through a week and packaging them in one week of work," Robar said. "They pick their Monday-to-Sunday in one shot instead of having to pick individual shifts [per day]."

Kelly said HRM's offer is worth $2.1 million, while the union's proposal would cost the city $8.8 million each year.

"In order for us to pay the bills — the taxpayers pay the bills — we need to find that money inside the operation," the mayor told reporters after Halifax regional council met privately on the matter.

"It's a large spread and the taxpayers cannot bear that $6.7-million cost, period."

Negotiators for Metro Transit and the union had a five-minute session at 5 a.m. on Thursday, the CBC's Pam Berman reported from the Holiday Inn Halifax Harbourview, where the talks were held.

The union walked away two hours later.

Commuters frustrated

The latest impasse is another blow to people who rely on buses and ferries to get around.

Ashton Bennett said he would normally take the bus to the Halifax Shopping Centre, but on Thursday he took his bike to the mall. He said he was frustrated to hear the talks were off again.

"I can't do anything, really. Especially this time, it's so cold," said Bennett.

"I'm from the tropics so riding this time of the year is not my style."

Glennys Ward-Eversley said while she was able to walk to the mall, many senior citizens in her building aren't able to do the same.

"They've got no place to go, really. They can't get to any other shopping centre," she said.

"Sometimes it's too windy for them to walk down to Wal-Mart here and things like that."

Ward-Eversley said people who can't get around stay indoors or take a taxi, which is not an affordable option.

"I just hope — all these people involved with the strike — there's a strike when they're old and see how they like being held captive," she said.