Nova Scotia

Striking transit union votes 78% against HRM offer

About 650 Amalgamated Transit Union local 508 members voted 78 per cent against the city's latest offer.
Ken Wilson, president of Amalgamated Transit Union local 508 talks to reporters Friday after announcing his members rejected HRM's offer with 78 per cent of the vote. (Preston Mulligan/CBC)

Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union local 508 have rejected the city's latest contract offer by a margin of 78 per cent, thus continuing the three-week old Metro Transit strike.

Halifax Regional Municipality has also enforced its bylaw banning burning barrels, which some of the picket workers have done to keep warm and cook food.

The fine for open-air burning is a minimum $250.

The reason for rejecting the offer, said Ken Wilson, the union's president, was that they want control of shift scheduling, called rostering.

Halifax Regional Municipality presented what Mayor Peter Kelly called its "final" offer Thursday.

HRM's offer was reached with the union and a conciliator – a five-year collective agreement, $1,500 signing bonus and 2.25 per cent increase in each of the last four years.

A meeting was held Wednesday morning between union president Ken Wilson, Metro Transit's director Eddie Robar and a conciliator.

The city would've gotten the rostering provisions it wanted with input from the union on how it would be established.

"The only terms in which we said we would meet was if they were willing to discuss the rostering, we came to an agreement on what that roster language would look like, we allowed them input into the process and that was shook on at the end of that session," said Robar.

Wilson said the offer's language only allowed them to make suggestions about scheduling.

The union decided to put the offer to a vote without making a recommendation to accept or reject.

Kelly again rejected any idea of sending the contract dispute to binding arbitration.

"Taxpayers can't bear much more than we've already offered them. No more than we already offered. We thought what we offered was more than fair," Kelly told reporters Friday afternoon.

Halifax Mayor Peter Kelly and Metro Transit director Eddie Robar speak to media Friday afternoon. (CBC)

"There's no way they can expect to hold the taxpayers ransom anymore."

Wilson told reporters Friday that members told him that they didn't like that HRM wanted to take the offer to the entire membership, because they felt Wilson should be the lead negotiator.

Bus drivers Ben Hollett and Loretta Humber were among those who voted against the offer.

"I thought it was garbage to put it politely. They're basically putting rostering back on the table - I've been here nine years and I don't want it," Humber told CBC News.

"The city seems pretty content to have us stay out, because they're saving money while we're off ... I would anticipate another three weeks," Hollett said.

Reaction on the streets

In HRM, reaction on the street was mixed.

"I think the city is doing the right thing. The transit union [has] a little too much that they're trying to get. The way that they're doing their scheduling, I find it atrocious how much it's costing taxpayers," said Tom Bell.

"It's hard walking across this bridge ... the last 16 days have been rough," said Rodney Malcolm.

"I'm good with letting things take their time, I can walk. I want the best for the transit, for what they're asking for ... I'm good to keep walking," said Nathan Boon.

"I'm kind of surprised. Three weeks, I thought they'd accept it and go back. I'm kind of disappointed because I used to take the bus every day," said Carolyn Pineau.

Kelly said the city will now spend its time looking for other ways to get people moving around the city. Private contractors have approached the city about starting some sort of a water taxi service to get people across the harbour, Kelly said.

"We've been approached in terms of the harbour operation to see what kind of opportunities might be there for us to explore and see where this might go," Kelly told reporters Friday afternoon.

The union will meet Friday night and may present a counter offer to the city, Wilson said late Friday afternoon to CBC News.

Metro Transit workers went on strike Feb. 2.