'No one has won,' Ottawa mayor says after vote extends transit strike

Striking transit workers' rejection of the City of Ottawa's latest contract offer ensures the transit strike will continue "for the foreseeable future," said Mayor Larry O'Brien. The strike was in its 31st day Friday.

Striking transit workers' rejection of the City of Ottawa's latest contract offer ensures the transit strike will continue "for the foreseeable future," said Mayor Larry O'Brien. The strike was in its 31st day Friday.

"This vote has ensured the citizens of Ottawa will continue to be inconvenienced," O'Brien said Thursday night. "We feel that no one has won as a result of this vote."

Official results of ATU 279 vote on city's Dec. 23 offer

 'Yes' ballots    517
 'No' ballots 1,516
 Spoiled ballots      12
 Total ballots cast 2,033
 Total eligible voters 2,353

Source: Canada Industrial Relations Board

Transit drivers, dispatchers and maintenance staff represented by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279 voted 75 per cent against the city's offer in a vote on Thursday ordered by the federal government after a request from the city.

The vote was supervised by the Canada Industrial Relations Board.

Following the release of the results late Thursday night, the mayor read a brief statement and took no questions from reporters.

O'Brien said the city's next move will be decided by council at its next meeting on Wednesday. However, he was also scheduled to give another statement on Friday at 3 p.m.

In Thursday night's statement, he claimed that only 64.4 per cent of eligible voters from the union rejected the city's contract.

He reiterated that he believes the offer, which included a wage increase of more than 7.25 per cent over three years and a one-time $2,500 bonus, was fair and reasonable, but did not refer to the city's new scheduling proposal, which the union was most opposed to.

Instead, he questioned why union leaders recommended a no vote during difficult economic times.

"We're in a recession and the leadership of the ATU need to understand that we have a responsibility to our taxpayers," he said.

Union head 'proud'

Andre Cornellier, president of the ATU 279, also declined to speak to reporters Thursday night, but issued a statement in which he said he was proud of union members for making the "right decision."

Submissions to the Canada Industrial Relations Board

Submissions must provide specific details in support of the statements being made, and must be limited to the issue of immediate and serious danger to safety or health. They must also include the name and contact information of the person making the submission. Please note that all submissions received will be transmitted to the employer and the trade union for their review and comment.

Submissions may be sent to the Canada Industrial Relations Board by:

Canada Industrial Relations Board, Regional Director C.D. Howe Building, 4th Floor West, 240 Sparks St., Ottawa, Ont., K1A 0X8

All written submissions must be received at the Canada Industrial Relations Board no later than 5 p.m. on Jan. 9.

He said the results "are clearly saying we want a fair collective agreement" and he indicated the union is ready to go back to the negotiating table.

However, Cornellier called the mayor's push for the vote a costly and "risky gamble" that has delayed negotiations and he is "not celebrating" as a result.

Labour Minister Rona Ambrose, who ordered the vote, issued a statement Friday that said she has contacted O'Brien and ATU International vice-president Randy Graham to urge them back to the bargaining table as soon as possible.

"This strike has been difficult on all residents of the National Capital Region, and we want to see a resumption of transit service at the earliest possible date," said Ambrose. "However, the onus is on the employer and union to bargain in good faith, demonstrate flexibility and achieve a settlement."

Ambrose said federal mediators are ready to assist with negotiations, and she is also willing to appoint an arbitrator to deal with unresolved matters if both parties request it.

Commuter 'really upset'

The result of the vote offered no comfort to Ottawa commuters.

Nicole Lavigne, who took a taxi to her job at a downtown coffee shop, said she's "really upset."

"We've already gone through this for a month ... this is having a serious impact on my life," she said.

She added that she doesn't really understand the controversy over scheduling.

"You don't often get to pick your schedules that much.... That's not what public service is about."

Lavigne said she hopes the federal government will step in and legislate the union back to work. OC Transpo, the transit company owned and run by the City of Ottawa, is under federal rather than provincial jurisdiction because some routes travel into Quebec. 

Transport Minister John Baird has said federal back-to-work legislation is unlikely.

However, the Canada Industrial Relations Board has the power to issue back-to-work orders in order to prevent immediate and serious danger to the safety or health of the public that might be related to the strike. The board will be accepting submissions from the public until Friday at 5 p.m.

Traffic headache

Doug Hickey, who commuted into Ottawa from Smiths Falls, said traffic has been a headache these days on account of the strike, but he was reluctant to weigh in on the issues.

"I really don't have enough information from either side ... because in all honesty I don't trust either side," he said. "I'd like to see a third party come in and tell us what is wrong with the scheduling system."

On Thursday, four Ottawa post-secondary institutions announced that they are linking the shuttle services that they are running during the strike. That means students from each institution can use the service provided by the other three. Information can be found on the websites for:

Union members walked off the job on Dec. 10, mainly over the scheduling issue, and no talks have been held since the city made its latest offer on Dec. 23. 

Union leaders claimed the offer was very similar to the earlier offer rejected by ATU 279 members when they voted 98 per cent in favour of a strike at the beginning of December.

However, the city alleged the offer was substantially different and said it expected union members would vote in favour of the offer if they had the chance to do so.

Many transit workers currently split shifts with a break in the middle to accommodate the peak periods of transit use in the morning and afternoon. Under the proposed scheduling system, the city would pair up morning and afternoon shifts, and drivers would choose pairs of shifts, with more senior drivers getting to choose first.

Currently, drivers pick morning and afternoon shifts separately. The city claims the new scheduling system will be fairer, more efficient and more cost effective. The union claims the new system would reduce workers' ability to balance their work and personal lives.