Nova Scotia

Striking transit workers block Halifax snowplows

Striking Metro Transit workers in Halifax tried a new tactic in their contract dispute on Monday, slowing snowplows in the Halifax Regional Municipality.

Union president says public never in danger

Striking Metro Transit workers in Halifax slowed snow plows from leaving the lot in Burnside. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Striking Metro Transit workers in Halifax tried a new tactic in their contract dispute, slowing snowplows in the Halifax Regional Municipality on Monday morning.

About a dozen workers blocked city plow trucks in Burnside Business Park, stopping them for about 10 to 15 minutes each before letting them through the main gate at the Transportation and Public Works facility.

Ken Wilson, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union local 608, told CBC News Monday it was made clear to strike captains that if the roads were dangerous, the picketing would cease.

"We're just holding up the snowplows and salt trucks for a minimum of 10 minutes. If it gets bad out then we're just going to shut the line down and let them go," said Adam Francis, the strike captain on the site.

"We don't want to put anybody in danger, public safety is still a concern of ours. But for the time being, until the weather picks up, we're just going to hold up the salt trucks and the contractors for about 10 minutes."

One plow truck driver who spoke to the CBC's Paul Palmeter said he supported the transit union and didn't mind the wait, as long as it wasn't jeopardizing public safety.

At one point about 10 trucks were waiting to leave the Transportation and Public Works lot, Palmeter reported.

Dave Gay, a salt truck driver waiting at the picket line, said there were many roads in the Halifax Regional Municipality that plows had to get to.

"Some of the hills haven't been gotten to yet. There's a small crew already called out because of the snowfall that we got," he told CBC News.

"If somebody falls down a big intersection on one of the main arteries it's not going to go good for anybody."

Adam Francis, a strike captain, said Metro Transit workers were holding up snow and salt trucks for about 10 minutes each. (CBC)

Francis said the striking workers plan to picket at various Public Works facilities within the Halifax Regional Municipality.

"We've been out here for 33 days now and it's time to show HRM that we're serious. We're going to keep doing what we have to do until a contract is agreed upon," Francis said.

"We're not here to upset the public, but we're on strike," Wilson added. "My obligation is to my members first, and the public second."

Wilson said he knows there's been criticism from the public, including comments on social media.

"We went to bat for the public on Feb. 14 and asked for binding arbitration, and council didn't support it. Where was the public at, tweeting about that, why council didn't support that?"

Strike began Feb. 2

As the strike drags on into its second month, downtown Halifax Coun. Dawn Sloane told CBC News it's time the Halifax Regional Municipality considered binding arbitration to end the Metro Transit strike.

The deadline for striking drivers to accept the municipality's last offer passed at midnight on Friday, returning both sides to square one after more than a month of negotiations.

At least one mayoralty candidate told CBC News he would support binding arbitration in the contract dispute if it was warranted.

"I am in favour of arbitration or binding arbitration, but only after all other avenues of solvability have been exhausted," said Tom Martin, a candidate and former police officer.

"We have mediation, we have conciliation, in addition to the negotiation process. My question would be, 'Have we exhausted those avenues?"

Mike Savage, who has also announced his intention to run for the mayor's office, said he wasn't going to wade into the transit debate.

"In my view it would be entirely political to sort of jump into the transit strike as a candidate for mayor," he said.

"I don't know all the details of the negotiations and I think it would be improper to jump in with a position."

CBC News was unable to reach the two other mayoralty candidates, businessman Fred Connors and university student Matt Worona.

More than 700 workers with the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 508, walked off the job Feb. 2, leaving thousands of commuters without bus or ferry service.