Nova Scotia

Transit union rejects further conciliation

The union representing striking Metro Transit workers says it has not agreed to further conciliation, despite the city's offer to sit down with Nova Scotia's head conciliator.

N.S. offered conciliator to try to end Metro Transit strike

Striking Metro Transit workers picket on Wednesday morning. (Phonse Jessome/CBC)

The union representing striking Metro Transit workers says it has not agreed to further conciliation, despite the city's offer to sit down with Nova Scotia's head conciliator.

The provincial government had stepped in to try to put an end to the Metro Transit strike in Halifax by offering Ken Zwicker to handle negotiations between the city and striking workers.

However, provincial officials said both sides must agree to return to the bargaining table.

Ken Wilson, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union local 508, told CBC News he met with Zwicker on Wednesday morning.

Wilson said he doesn't understand the Halifax Regional Municipality's most recent offering.

"It's the same old, same old. It was the employer that filed for conciliation in October. We already have a conciliator appointed, so Mr. Zwicker is just another conciliator," he said.

"What can he do that the other conciliator couldn't do?"

The union said it's also upset with what Mayor Peter Kelly said after a marathon council meeting ended late Tuesday night.

"We want to take up the offer of the conciliator that has been appointed by the province today," Kelly said Tuesday.

Wilson said Zwicker relayed to the union that the city is not willing to take rostering off the table. Wilson said he will not return to the table until that's done, because the workers want to retain the current system of scheduling.

Transit workers pick their schedules "cafeteria style." This means they pick their shifts a day at a time, and those shifts add up to a week's worth.

Metro Transit says the current system is too unpredictable and creates scheduling holes, which drive up overtime costs.

It wants to block-book work schedules a week at a time instead of day-to-day. The picking order would still be based on seniority and the proposed week-long blocks to be selected by transit operators would also be in effect for three months until the next shift pick period.

Ken Zwicker met with city officials on Tuesday and after a four-hour informal meeting, Halifax regional council agreed to go back to the table with the union.

Mayor misleads?

Rick Clarke, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, told reporters Mayor Peter Kelly has misled regional council and members of the public by saying that the conciliator was appointed.

Metro Transit workers voted in favour of binding arbitration in their dispute with the Halifax Regional Municipality on Tuesday afternoon.

But Halifax regional council voted against binding arbitration Tuesday evening, arguing that option would have cost the city too much money.

On Wednesday evening, Kelly shot back at Clarke's accusation.

"I think someone is playing games here," Kelly said.

"The fact is … [the conciliator] reached out to our staff, met with them for an hour at 1 Government Place under the direction of the premier's office and asked if we were interested and that they would be carrying it forward to the union today and ask them. To me that's taking responsibility and taking charge."

Adam Francis, a driver for Metro Transit, said he was surprised to hear the city had rejected arbitration.

"We're just trying to figure out what happened last night and why city council won't bring this to a binding arbitration," he told CBC News.

"I have an idea why they won't bring it to binding arbitration because I think somebody's numbers don't add up and I think they're scared that an arbitrator will see that," Francis said.

More than 700 members of the Amalgamated Transit Union walked off the job Feb. 2, leaving roughly 55,000 commuters without bus or ferry service.

Talks broke off Feb. 9 and have not resumed.