by Emily Leedham
Update May 31, 2019: ATU 1505 Members have voted 97% against the City’s offer. Voter turnout was 84%. No job action announced for the weekend, but the union says there will be action in the “coming days,” and will inform the public ahead of time. ATU 1505 also invited the City back to the bargaining table.
Update June 3, 2019: ATU 1505 implemented a voluntary overtime ban, meaning members cannot sign up for additional overtime.
Winnipeg Transit drivers and mechanics could take further job action this weekend if members of ATU 1505 vote against the City’s most recent offer later today. The vote will be held around 4 PM and the union says results should be known around 5 PM.
Two weeks ago on May 14th, Winnipeg Transit drivers did not enforce fares for passengers as a form of legal job action, which the City says resulted in 45K of lost revenue. This “fare strike” was the first time the ATU had officially done this type of job action in North America.
Aleem Chaudhary, president of ATU Local 1505, did not elaborate about what further job action the union is planning, but emphasized that the union intends to work hard to strengthen its relationship with transit riders.
“We give about 170,000 rides a day and I think it’s very important to keep people moving,” Chaudhary told RankandFile.ca, “I mean people need to get to school, people need to get to work, people gotta pay bills and if they don’t work, lot of places won’t pay them, so we’re aware of that. That’s the very very last thing we want to do is walk off the job. City Hall is saying we’re mentioning a strike all the time – it’s not us who is mentioning the strike. We’re not even looking at it, like I said, until it’s the last resort.”
Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said that if the union rejects the offer, he would not consider a lockout. However, the CBC reports that Michael Jack, Winnipeg’s chief corporate services officer, did not rule out a lockout.
On May 24, Jack also sent out an email to all City of Winnipeg employees explaining policies and procedures should a “labour disruption” occur.
“A labour disruption by ATU would have an immediate impact on Transit service,” he says, according to screenshots obtained by RankandFile.ca.
The email also refers to Article 36 in CUPE’s collective agreement which states that “no employee shall be required to cross a legally recognized picket line, except in cases where, in the opinion of the Department head, it is necessary to provide emergency service.”
[should I include screenshots of the emails here? They are in the media library, I’m having a hard time formatting them.]
“We want to get back on the table and negotiate a fair contract that’s fair to everybody,” Chaudhary responds, “The city is the one that’s always bringing up the word strike, they’re trying to fearmonger with the public and right now with our members.”
The City has indicated that it’s May 17th offer is “final.”
Chaudhary says this fearmongering is part of a larger pattern of the City negotiating in bad faith. He says the City bypassed the ATU bargaining committee against his knowledge last week, sharing the most recent offer with city councillors, ATU members and the media. The City released the offer to the media on a Friday at 4PM when ATU staff and lawyers were gone home for the day, he continues. For Chaudhary, the City’s action breached the agreement the two parties had to not bargain in the media – now all that has changed.
“So right now it’s open, and from here on, if they would like to do it in the media and in the public, we are prepared for it. We would like to have all our negotiations set out and do it in a public forum where we can invite our members and members of the public that are interested in watching, they can sit in the same room as we are and hear our discussions.
We have nothing to fear,” he continues. “We’re asking for a fair deal, and we’re not asking for something that’s outrageous at all, whatsoever. So we’re ready to deal in the public and the media if need be.”
Chaudhary says the ATU bargaining committee sat down with members last weekend and explained why the committee recommends rejecting the latest offer.
One key issue for members is the ability to switch shifts and trade vacation time. This provides important flexibility for employees who are newcomers or who have family abroad to visit their loved ones. Because members may be traveling long distances with their entire families, they like to go for 3 or 4 weeks at a time, which is longer than the currently allotted two weeks of vacation. Workers have developed out a system that allows them to trade vacation time with each other to facilitate these important trips. Aleem says the current system works really well.
He says the City’s idea of providing “flexibility” for members is restricting the timeframe in which workers can trade shifts and vacation time with each other, and introducing 200 part time positions, with lower pay and no pensions or benefits.
Another key issues the union has been pushing for is fair scheduling. He says the ATU has been asking for members of a transit rider’s group to sit on a scheduling committee to provide public input on bus schedules. Currently, bus routes are calculated according to the bus traveling 35km an hour. Chaudhaury says if the route times were calculated according to 20 km an hour, it would allow to drivers to be less rushed and stay on schedule more easily.
When drivers feel rushed, he says it impacts their ability to stop and take breaks to stretch their legs and take a mental break from driving. The union is also asking for portable washrooms to be installed at the end of each route, because drivers often do not have access to washrooms even when they do find time to take a break. Ultimately, scheduling issues impact safety, because if drivers are burned out and feel the need to speed up to get back on schedule, it increases the chances of accidents.
“So these are just human rights conditions that we’re asking for,” Chaudhary explains, “and these will be beneficial at the end of the day. The happier the workers are, the better service their going to provide and the safer atmosphere they’re going to provide for our riders.”