Ottawa to cut transit admin staff as strike goes on
The City of Ottawa will temporarily lay off some OC Transpo administrative staff and hire more drivers to boost its transportation services for the disabled as the city's transit strike, in its 31st day on Friday, continues.
Mayor Larry O'Brien announced Friday afternoon that the 40 to 60 layoffs are necessary now that the strike by about 2,300 transit drivers, dispatchers and maintenance staff has been prolonged by the union's rejection of the city's latest offer.
"The results of the vote leave us with little choice," he said. "We have a responsibility to the taxpayers of Ottawa."
Members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279 voted 75 per cent against the offer Thursday after being ordered to vote on it by federal Labour Minister Rona Ambrose at the city's request.
The staff affected by the layoffs are administrative and support staff who belong to the striking workers' sister union, ATU Local 1760. Alain Mercier, head of OC Transpo, said some of the employees will be reassigned to other jobs.
O'Brien also announced additional measures to help Ottawa residents cope with the strike, saying the city will:
- Open the Transitway to organized shuttles for students and community groups starting Monday; the dedicated roadways are usually reserved for OC Transpo and emergency vehicles.
- Expand Para Transpo services for seniors and "vulnerable" people.
- Provide $200,000 to community agencies to arrange additional services.
- Offer emergency funding to people at risk of losing their jobs due to the strike.
Para Transpo is OC Transpo's door-to-door transportation service for people with disabilities and is not affected by the strike.
O'Brien said that in order to meet the increased demand for Para Transpo, more drivers will be hired and the city will lease additional vehicles for use by the service.
Members of ATU 279 walked off the job on Dec. 10 and no talks have been held between the two sides since the city issued its last offer on Dec. 23.
However, O'Brien said Friday that since Thursday night's vote, the city has been in contact with a federal mediator to find out if the union is prepared to negotiate "within [the] city's existing mandate."
Transit drivers and labour activists were hopeful that the vote would indeed pave the way for more talks.
"Having this vote now is the pivotal turnaround. It really makes all the difference," said bus driver Jim Smith at a rally at city hall on Friday. "It's a happy day. It really is."
The rally was organized by other labour groups, including the Ontario Federation of Labour, to show support for the transit union.