by Scotty Hertz
Regular bus riders in Guelph, Ontario were somewhat confused by the announcement on Monday July 21 that the City of Guelph had locked out 208 transit workers after the city’s final offer was rejected by an overwhelming majority of the members of ATU Local 1189. Most residents thought that the matter had been settled the Monday prior, when a lockout was announced then cancelled abruptly as word was a tentative agreement had been reached. Bus stop schedules had been replaced city wide overnight with stark yellow and black signs which included an apology for any inconvenience. Last week’s dry run became this week’s reality.
Local 1189’s previous contract with the City expired in July of 2013. Talks began in October and after 22 sessions it looked as if an agreement would not be reached as the City’s “final offer” was voted down by 94% of the members on July 11. A subsequent last minute deal was agreed to by the bargaining team in conciliation on July 14, which was also soundly rejected by the membership, leading to the surprise lock out on the 21st.
Year round transit riders have taken to walking, cycling or carpooling with ride sharing arranged through social media. Many of the University of Guelph’s 17,000 students who rely on the bus system will be back in town after Labour Day. All previously booked appointments with the accessible/mobility bus have been honoured and bus pass rebates were being offered by the City to the public for the remainder of the month.
Drivers are expected to be superheroes at all times, who are able to defy their own biology and not need a bathroom break.
Many of the major contentious issues for the workers are of a nature the City believes to be “outside the confines of a collective bargaining agreement”.
The recently completed Guelph Central Station does not have a public washroom facility as was planned for in initial designs. There are other toilets nearby but adhering to a tight bus schedule would make it impossible for the workers or public to access them in a timely fashion. Operators who make a pit stop on route within town have been regularly belittled and attacked on social media. Drivers are expected to be superheroes at all times, who are able to defy their own biology and not need a bathroom break.
Scheduling and overtime
Late last year, the operators were widely vilified both in the press and by some at city hall when an audit revealed that almost a million dollars in overtime was paid out to them in 2013. The internal auditor stated that in working the shifts, the driver’s actions were “bordering on misappropriation”. The union countered that this is a scheduling issue and that a lack of part time drivers led to full time drivers having to pick up extra shifts at the overtime rate. Chippy public exchanges such as this have not aided the atmosphere around negotiations. A widely-shared local CTV report reveals the level of tension in the air.
It’s not just bus drivers
More recent headlines such as “Bus drivers locked out” have focused attention on the driver/operators but the union also includes truck and coach mechanics, service technicians and other garage and maintenance utility workers who are both full and part time. Multiple outstanding issues such as the roll back of maintenance worker hours and the compensation to certified journeypersons have also added to the litany of items the workers would like to see addressed.
This cumulative pile up of many smaller issues has led to the overwhelming rejection of the final offer and tentative agreement, with the workers insisting outright that wages are not the sole issue as implied by the City. The City is countering with the official line that any upward movement on their part would drive transit and property tax rates up and “entrench hardship long term”. Guelph CAO Ann Pappert insisted on Monday “I still don’t know what is missing that they’re looking for”.
With the membership having “straight up told” ATU 1189 President Andy Cleary that they will not reconsider the offer, and the City indicating bus users will be “left without service until the agreement is reconsidered and accepted”, it’s looking like alternative means of transport will be the order of the day for the weeks to come in the Royal City.
Scotty Hertz is the host of The Working Week on CFRU FM. He is also the “resident pinko” on The Gang of Four political panel.