Transit workers overwhelmingly reject city contract offer

Citing bad faith negotiating on city's part, union poised to strike February 2.

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Halifax transit workers have overwhelming rejected a contract offer from the city, and could therefore go on strike February 2.

The contract vote was unambiguous. About 700 of the 763 transit workers cast ballots, with 98.4 voting against---fewer than 10 people voted to accept the city’s offer, says Ken Wilson, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 508, which represents local transit workers.

The city’s contract offer was “an insult” to the workers, says Wilson, who maintains that the city has acted in bad faith since the union’s previous contract expired in September.

The city offered a small pay increase, but that wasn’t the sticking point, says Wilson. “What is the point of striking over wages in 2012? I know the economy’s bad. The state of the economy---everyone’s going through a downturn---we understand that.”

Rather, says Wilson, the city is trying to turn back previous agreements over scheduling, the use of part-time employees and, most importantly, contracting out entire job categories like mechanics, Access-A-Bus drivers, ferry staff and potentially even regular route drivers.

At the first contract negotiation meeting in September, management proposed 270 changes to the previous contract. Rather than bargain over terms, in October management called in a concilliator; with the concilliator present, the two sides met just twice in December and four times in January.

“Let me be crystal clear: there was absolutely no bargaining taking place at any of these dates,” says Wilson. “This employer never came to the table to bargain; they came to the table with one mandate only---to take from us.”

Wilson uses as an example a conflict over ferry operations. “There was something that the employer wanted, and there was something that I wanted,” says Wilson. “And I said, ‘OK, what are you prepared to offer?’ And all of a sudden they threw their pens down and said, ‘We’re not here to offer nothing.’ I looked at the concilliator and said, ‘This is not bargaining; this is demanding.’”

The concilliator’s report is not public record, and Wilson will not divulge its contents, but other union members have told The Coast it’s highly critical of the city.

The union made a counter offer last week, which was rejected by the city, and so Wilson had no choice but to take the city’s offer to membership for a vote.

Wilson is not surprised at the lopsided vote to reject the offer. “My people are extremely offended,” he says. “This employer has basically slapped their employees in the face with this offer.”

After the vote, the city issued a press release saying it was “disappointed” at the outcome. “We put forward a contract package, inclusive of wage increases, that would allow us to build a sustainable, reliable transit service for the future,” says Metro Transit manager Eddie Robar in the release.

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