Token Table Talk: Negotiations begin and end abruptly with Coventry Connections

By Tania Parker

Talks between Unifor Local 1688 and Coventry Connections broke down as of 11pm on Monday, Aug. 31, with Coventry refusing to budge on the new per-ride fee

While last Wednesday’s meeting with Ottawa mayor Jim Watson was successful in bringing Ottawa’s airport taxi drivers’ union and Coventry Connections, the city’s largest taxi company, back to the table for negotiations, talks lasted only 5 hours, breaking down at 11pm.

A loud protest at City Hall on Monday, Aug. 24 victoriously resulted in the meeting with the mayor.

At the table, Coventry Connections refused to budge on the fee increase structure imposed on Ottawa airport taxi drivers, which resulted in a lockout of 260 drivers on Aug. 11.

A new agreement was negotiated between the drivers’ dispatcher, Coventry Connections, and the Ottawa Airport Authority. This new agreement implements a stark change in the taxi drivers’ payment structure, from a monthly flat rate fee to a per-ride system.

The union plans to ramp up protests at this time, reports Amrik Singh, president of Unifor Local 1688, the union representing the locked out taxi drivers.

The lockout is into its fourth week of protests, catapulting taxi drivers into the midst of dispute-related traffic delays, an ensuing turf war at the picket line with other Coventry taxi fleets who have been granted permission to pick up airport passengers.

In an interview with leading up to the Aug. 31 negotiations, Singh stated he was pleased that the company has agreed to talk.

“The meeting with the mayor helped bring the two parties back together,” Singh indicated.

While the city is not a participant of the labour negotiations between the drivers and their dispatcher, the union had believed that the mayor would be monumental in the much-needed push towards negotiations.

“We used to be charged a flat rate of $345 per month,” Singh says. “The new agreement between Coventry and the airport means drivers will be paying $4.50 plus HST per ride.”

This change in payment structure would result in a substantial fee increase for drivers, who typically pick up an average of 12 passengers per day.

While the union understands that a fee increase is inevitable for its members, they are not willing to accept the new payment structure that has been imposed upon

“We are ready to pay them more in flat rate fees,” Singh states, “but we are not prepared to agree to the per-ride fee system.” Singh indicates a percentage-based increase to their monthly flat rate would be more readily acceptable to the union.

When asked whether ride-sharing upstart Uber is a leveraging factor in the dispute, Singh was quick to agree, but also pointed out that Uber is operating illegally in Ottawa.

According to Singh, there are currently 144 charges against Uber drivers under Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act. He also mentioned that Bill 53, the Protecting Passenger Safety Act, is slated to pass parliamentary hearings. Once enacted, it would target “bandit taxi cabs” with a 30-day license suspension, and vehicle impoundment for those caught driving illegally twice in a five-year period.

Coventry Connections is one of Ontario’s largest operators of taxis with 18 taxi fleets and 1,400 taxicabs in various jurisdictions. They hold exclusive pick up rights at Ottawa’s MacDonald-Cartier International Airport.


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