Ottawa transit strike still on as union members reject contract offer

Ottawa transit workers rejected the city's latest contract offer in a vote Thursday, meaning their month-long strike will continue.

Ottawa transit workers rejected the city's latest contract offer in a vote Thursday, meaning their month-long strike will continue.

Transit workers can be seen through a window at the Ottawa Civic Centre Thursday voting on the city's latest contract offer. ((CBC))

Members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279 were ordered by federal Labour Minister Rona Ambrose to vote on the City of Ottawa's latest offer after the city requested a forced vote.

While both the city and union agreed on the outcome of the vote, the two sides were at odds over the numbers.

The union said 75 per cent of the 2,033 members who cast ballots rejected the offer, which included a 7.25 per cent wage increase over three years and a $2,500 productivity bonus.

The city said that 64.4 per cent of the 2,353 transit drivers, dispatchers and maintenance staff eligible to cast ballots turned the offer down.

Andre Cornellier, president of ATU Local 279, said he was proud of members for making the "right decision."

"Despite their personal sacrifices, they are clearly saying we want a fair collective agreement," Cornellier said in a release.

High turnout for vote

By 7:30 a.m., hundreds of union members had voted or lined up at the Ottawa Civic Centre to vote.

Drivers receive only strike pay while not at work, which is far less than their regular pay. However, drivers receive their paycheques for their work three weeks after that work has been done. That means this week is the first week they will see smaller paycheques, as they are being paid for the week of Dec. 7.

Union members walked off the job on Dec. 10, and no talks have taken place between the two sides since the city's latest offer was issued on Dec. 23.

Union leaders allege the offer differs little from an earlier offer that union members rejected when they voted 98 per cent in favour of a strike at the beginning of December.

The transit workers mainly oppose the city's proposed new scheduling system, alleging it will reduce drivers' ability to balance their work and personal lives. The city alleges the new system will be fairer, more efficient and more cost-effective.