Nova Scotia

Metro Transit workers reject HRM offer by 98.4%

Metro Transit workers have voted 98.4 per cent against the Halifax Regional Municipality's latest contract offer.

HRM says it offered a fair offer to members of Local 508

Just under 700 Metro Transit workers have voted 98.4 per cent against the Halifax Regional Municipality's final contract offer.

More than 350 unionized Metro Transit workers came out on Sunday to hear the Halifax Regional Municipality's latest offer. (Sabrina Fabian/CBC)

Ken Wilson, president of Local 508, called the HRM's offer an "insult."

"I've heard rumours from my members that the mayor [Peter Kelly] was on the TV tonight saying that this was a fair offer that he offered us. It is absolutely not," he told CBC News on Sunday night.

"We are a vital part of the organization. We're not looking for a lot, we're looking to be respected and to be treated fairly, as we have for the last 30 years with this employer. The majority of times, anyway."

Wilson said the biggest concession his members disagreed with was contracting out, which he said was the reason for the five-week Metro Transit strike in 1998.

He said the HRM's wording of "contracting out" means the employer could contract out any work except for work on the scheduled run guide — also meaning specific routes could be contracted out to other people.

Part-time worker proposal rejected

Wilson said after the 1998 strike, the municipality left that article alone for 14 years. He stressed that bringing it up again would "deeply affect the maintenance department, the Access-A-Bus division, the receiver's office and possibly even our conventional transit."

He said another problem his members had with the city's offer was the idea of having part-time employees.

Wilson said in Metro Transit's 2006 contract, a stipulation was made that drivers have eight-hour rest periods in between their shifts. He said his members came to accept it, but now the city is asking for part-time workers.

"How do you police a part-timer's sleep?" Wilson questioned.

"You could work backshift at the hospital then get off, come in and drive a bus. Do you want someone who hasn't slept all night coming in and driving your kids to school?" he added.

"It's absolutely unacceptable and I can't believe the mayor would say it's a fair offer."

Strike could start Feb. 2

Wilson said if a deal is not reached by Feb. 1 at the end of service day, members of Local 508 would go on strike Feb. 2.

Officials with the Halifax Regional Municipality said in a release that they are disappointed the offer was rejected.

"We put forward a contract package, inclusive of wage increases, that would allow us to build a sustainable, reliable transit service for the future," Metro Transit director Eddie Robar stated in the release.

"We're just going to step into the conciliator process here, and we're open to meet whenever the conciliator sees fit and that will be our next step," Robar told CBC News.

Robar would not comment to CBC News about the comments Wilson made about contracting or part-time workers.

"We're going to try to keep that at the bargaining table itself and not get into bargaining in the media," he said.

"We tabled a fiscally responsible offer, something that was fair, and by asking them to take it to the membership, we were hopeful for a positive outcome and that didn't happen."

Robar added that because both sides are still willing to get back to the bargaining table, the HRM is still hoping for an agreement.

The Metro Transit employees voted following a meeting on Sunday morning to hear a presentation from the union.

Talks broken

Talks broke off between the Amalgamated Transit Union and the city earlier this month. Metro Transit workers have been without a contract since Sept. 1.

Representatives of the union and the municipality met with a conciliator eight times from November to January before talks broke down.

Wilson said the conciliator filed his report on Jan. 18 at the city's request, putting the two sides in a legal strike or lockout position on Feb. 2.

Wilson said earlier Sunday he was pleased to see that more than half of the unionized transit workers showed up so early on a Sunday morning.

The bargaining committee had recommended its members reject the offer.

Wilson said the union has members in Canada and the United States. The president of the international union, Larry Hanley, came from Washington to Halifax Sunday to lend his support.

The local union represents more than 760 bus drivers, ferry operators, mechanics, maintenance staff and office employees.

Metro Transit has a ridership of about 96,000 people daily.