Limited Ottawa transit pickets allowed at world hockey juniors

A small number of pickets with the union representing transit workers will be allowed, and only in specific areas, outside one of the venues for the world junior hockey championship as the tournament opens in Ottawa this Friday.

A small number of pickets with the union representing transit workers will be allowed, and only in specific areas, outside one of the venues for the world junior hockey championship as the tournament opens in Ottawa this Friday.

As a transit strike was in its 15th day Wednesday, Justice Charles Hackland of the Ontario Superior Court ruled that a total of 80 pickets will be allowed at the city-owned Ottawa Civic Centre Arena, one of two venues for the tournament Dec. 26 to Jan. 5:

  • Ten pickets at each of the four entrances of the city-owned Ottawa Civic Arena.
  • Ten pickets at each of the four entrances of Lansdowne Park, site of the arena.

The pickets are not allowed to block vehicle or pedestrian traffic, and must be set up for information purposes only.

The compromise was agreed to by:

  • Local 279 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which had threatened to picket the Civic Centre Arena on Boxing Day as part of a transit strike that began on Dec. 10.
  • The City of Ottawa, which had been seeking a court order to ban pickets at the arena during the tournament.

Russia and Latvia are set to face off at the arena in the first game of the championship at 2:30 p.m. ET Friday. All games will take place either there or at Scotiabank Place in Kanata.

The union represents 2,300 drivers, dispatchers and maintenance staff for OC Transpo, the transit company owned and run by the City of Ottawa, and the strike seems unlikely to be resolved soon, as the two sides broke off talks on Tuesday night.

Public safety an issue

The city had argued in court Wednesday that pickets at the Ottawa Civic Centre Arena at Lansdowne Park would be a threat to public safety because the arena is close to the city's downtown.

The union, however, said Lansdowne Park is city property so it has every right to picket there. The union also argued that injunctions are typically granted only after pickets are already set up. It said the city did not seek an injunction against earlier pickets at the same site during an annual Christmas craft show from Dec. 11 to 21.

The city's injunction request followed an announcement by transit union president Andre Cornellier on Tuesday.

Cornellier told CBC News all 2,300 members of Local 279 have been told to report to picket lines outside the Ottawa Civic Centre Arena starting around noon on Dec. 26.

Feds should intervene: mayor

Earlier Wednesday, Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien called on the federal government to intervene in an effort to end the transit strike.

At a morning news conference, O'Brien said he has asked Labour Minister Rona Ambrose to call a supervised vote by striking transit workers on a new offer issued by the city Tuesday. The city says the labour minister has the power to call such a vote under Sec. 108.1 of the Canada Labour Code.

"That's going to be the fastest, most effective way of getting back to where the drivers are working because we believe, fundamentally … the majority of drivers think that the offer we've made is fair," said O'Brien.

O'Brien said the ATU's latest demands for a 9.25 per cent pay increase over three years and 14 days of "uncertified" leave show the union executive is "out of touch" with the economy, the interests of its members and the interests of the city and OC Transpo, the transit company owned and run by the city.

Talks break off

Talks between the two sides resumed Saturday for the first time since before the strike and continued until Tuesday night. As of Wednesday morning, both sides confirmed that talks had broken off.

The union's website said the talks ended after the city "failed to show any flexibility" on its new scheduling proposal, the main issue of disagreement between the two sides.

The union has said the proposal takes away some of the flexibility for drivers to arrange their schedules to accommodate their personal lives. The city has said the proposal would be safer, fairer and more cost-effective.

In response to O'Brien's proposal for a forced vote, Randy Graham, international vice-president for the union, said he has no idea why the mayor "thinks he can go to the feds and have that happen." Graham said he has never seen a forced vote in the 37 or 38 years he has dealt with the federal labour board.

Graham said talks broke off Tuesday night because the city rejected a new scheduling counter-proposal from the union. Graham said the city liked parts of the union's proposal, which he said is similar to transit-worker scheduling in other cities.

However, city negotiators said the proposal couldn't be implemented for several years, Graham said. He said the city's latest offer is very similar to the one rejected weeks earlier by union members.

Graham said he is furious and blames O'Brien, whom he accused of not showing any leadership.

O'Brien alleged that the city's offer is a "significantly changed proposal."

He added that OC Transpo head Alain Mercier asked union president Andre Cornellier on Sunday if he would be willing to accept arbitration on the scheduling issue. However, Cornellier "flatly refused," O'Brien said.

Mercier said the city worked hard on the scheduling issue that wasn't the main problem during the recent negotiations.

"It was clear that this was really not just about scheduling. This was about the whole package that they wanted in terms of other elements.… We're quite far apart on the economic issues."